Officials: Keystone Saves, Brings Jobs

With the hum of large earth-moving equipment in the background a “ground-breaking” ceremony for the new Keystone Foods plant today showed the project was way beyond the usual gold-painted shovels usually used for such occasions.

The 184,000-square-foot plant at the intersection of Airport Road and Steele Station Road is scheduled to be opened by fall 2009, said Keith Lewis, senior vice president USA for Keystone Foods, which announced the $118 million investment in Gadsden on July 15.

He said the present plant in East Gadsden employs 530 people.

“Keystone has had a great relationship with the citizens and the city of Gadsden so much so that we’ve decided to locate another facility here, so we’re very proud of that and appreciate all the hard work that’s gone into making this project happen,” Lewis told a small crowd, including Gadsden and Rainbow City officials, at the site.

Lewis said at full capacity the new plant will employ 680 people, creating 150 new jobs. He said the project is a “win” for the city with new jobs and a “win” for Keystone with additional capacity. The new plant will double the capacity of the existing plant.

Work on the site has been going on for several weeks.

In an interview, Lewis said Keystone’s business has been strong and the company needs additional capacity.

He said the city of Gadsden and the state of Alabama made it a “very attractive” project.

He said the company has had a great relationship with the city since Keystone came here 20 years ago and wanted to stay in the area.

Lewis said the project was an extension of the existing plant in East Gadsden and will have the possibility of additional items being produced at the new facility.

Keystone’s plant in East Gadsden is 75,000 square feet.

Keystone officials have not said what they plan on doing with that facility. According to information given the city Keystone plans to either operate the plant as a secondary processing plant or sell it.

Keystone provides chicken to industrial clients and restaurants.

Lewis said the plant will be a “fully cooked, poultry-processing operation.”

Lewis said the current plant does a small amount of non-poultry product.

Keystone’s customers include McDonald’s and Taco Bell.

Gadsden Mayor Sherman Guyton said the project would save more than 500 existing jobs and create 150 more jobs at Keystone and 40 jobs at Southern Cold Storage, which is going to build an $11 million distribution center adjacent to the Keystone facility.

Guyton said the four-laning of Airport Road to Steele Station Road would help to open up the area for development for Gadsden and Rainbow City.

He thanked Rainbow City for deannexing part of the property so it could be annexed into Gadsden.

Former state Sen. Gerald Dial, executive director of the Alabama Rural Action Commission, which helped provide $2 million in funding to four-lane Airport Road, thanked Keystone Foods for choosing Alabama for the project.

State Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, who helped to secure the road funding, said he was surprised local officials were able to get that amount of money for the road project. The four-laning of Airport Road will open up the area for industrial development, he said.

Keystone Foods has been in Gadsden for 20 years. It is a privately owned, food-processing company with headquarters in West Conshohocken, Pa. Keystone operates 55 facilities in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

The company produces more than 1.6 billion pounds of poultry and 388 million pounds of beef annually. It serves more than 30,000 restaurants.

By Andy Powell, Times Staff Writer