Facility expected to bring more jobs than originally thought

MT. COMFORT — More jobs and higher wages are promised for a site of a new meat freezer storage facility in Mt. Comfort.

John Morrell Food Group plans to open the facility in the first quarter of 2016, bringing 260 jobs at an annual payroll of $10 million. The freezer warehouse, the largest distribution center for the company, will ship about 700 million pounds of meat a year.

The figures are higher than in an original plan for the site, announced last fall. The project is switching hands from Tippmann Construction, which had promised 200 jobs at a $6.3 million payroll.

On Wednesday, the Hancock County Council unanimously approved an updated tax abatement.

“Truly, we’re excited about being here,” Scott Saunders, chief financial officer for Morrell, told the council. “This is a great location for us. This is the heartland for our company.”

With popular meat brands such as Eckrich, Armour, Nathan’s and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, the site will be the company’s largest distribution center.

John Morrell Food Group is a component of Smithfield Pork Group, producers of more than 50 brands of pork products. John Morrell Food Group has a 180-year history; Saunders said it is the oldest continually operating meat manufacturer in the country. Today its headquarters are in Lisle, Illinois, and Cincinnati.

The company’s presentation included a video emphasizing Morrell’s corporate charitable philosophy. Saunders said the company will give back to the Hancock County community.

The company plans to spend $43.5 million to build and equip the meat product distribution center.

Construction is underway at the 80-acre site at the Axcess 70 Business Park. Tippmann had begun work, and Morrell originally planned to lease from Tippmann.

But Saunders said it made better financial sense to own the structure during the building phase, sell it and then lease the space. Ultimately, Morrell will own part of the building and much of its interior equipment. The 260 staff members will be Morrell employees.

While the county council approved a 10-year tax break for Tippmann in October, the group tweaked the tax abatement to match Morrell’s updated business plan.

The 10-year tax abatement approved by the council equates to about a $4.5 million break in real estate taxes and $600,000 in personal property taxes, said Skip Kuker, director of the Hancock Economic Development Council.

Tax abatements are tools communities use to attract businesses to the area, allowing new taxes on properties to be phased in over time. Kuker emphasized that the company will pay about the same amount in property taxes over the next decade.

“They’ll save about 50 percent of taxes over 10 years,” Kuker said.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. offered the company up to $1.5 million in conditional tax credits based on the company’s job-creation plans. The state agency also will provide the community with up to $250,000 in infrastructure assistance from the state’s Industrial Development Grant Fund.

Kuker said that the county’s redevelopment commission will match that money up to another $250,000 for a new water tank at the site.

The facility should be open by the first quarter of 2016, Saunders said.

He said Hancock County was chosen because of its proximity to manufacturing facilities and its customers. The nearest Morrell manufacturing site is in Peru, Indiana, but the company has four smaller distribution branches based in Evansville, South Bend, Anderson and Brazil.

There are manufacturing facilities in 11 other states.

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., released a statement following Morrell’s announcement Wednesday, saying local leadership and tax structure bring incentives for job creation.

“It’s exciting to see a business like John Morrell calling Greenfield home and creating more than 200 new jobs for the talented and hardworking workforce in Hancock County,” Messer said in the statement. “I look forward to seeing the progress on the new distribution facility in the coming year.”

By the numbers

John Morrell Food Group plans to open a freezer warehouse in the first quarter of 2016 at County Road 500W and County Road 300N. Here’s a look at the project:

260: number of jobs

$10 million: annual payroll, with the average employee making $19.50 an hour

$30 million: real estate investment at the site

$17 million: personal property investment at the site, with equipment for the facility

$5.1 million: estimated tax break over 10 years, per an abatement agreement granted by the Hancock County Council