“Project Freeze” Will Add, Retain Jobs

Tuesday was a good day for the job market in Gadsden, with an announcement of about 200 new jobs and the retention of another 520 jobs.

After Gadsden city officials were given a briefing before the council meeting concerning “Project Freeze,” an industrial development project officials have been working on for more than a year, the council took action to cement a deal with Keystone Foods and Southern Cold Storage for the companies to locate at the former Cameron planned development property at the intersection of Steele Station Road and Airport Road.

Mayor Sherman Guyton noted Alabama lost the Volkswagen plant to Tennessee on Tuesday but said, “Right here in Gadsden, there are some good things happening.”  He said the two projects represent an investment of $127 million in Gadsden.

Keystone Foods is in a 75,000-square-foot facility in East Gadsden and employs 520.  With the new 184,000-square-foot, fully cooked further processing facility, Keystone will be doubling its capacity here and adding 150 new jobs. Southern Cold Storage will be building a storage and distribution facility here to service the Keystone plant that will add 40 jobs, Keystone plant general manager Victor Turner said.

City officials have been working on the industrial project for about 18 months.

Mike McCain, executive director of the Gadsden-Etowah Industrial Development Authority, said the project initially involved an expansion of Keystone and Southern Cold Storage locating here to service the plant — hence the name “Project Freeze.”  He said after Keystone’s current site proved unsuitable for its expansion and a new site began to be considered, Southern Cold Storage officials said they wanted to locate adjacent to the new Keystone facility.

The new Keystone plant and the Southern Cold Storage facility will be on 98 acres at the intersection of Airport Road and Steele Station Road that the city is selling Keystone. Keystone will invest $118 million in the new facility, then will lease a portion of the property to Southern Cold Storage, which will build a $9 million distribution center.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the city, in addition to selling the property, also approved non-education tax abatements for the project. The city is selling Keystone the property for $538,000, which is half of the appraised value.

Keystone Foods has been in Gadsden for 20 years. It is a privately owned food-processing company with headquarters in West Conshohocken, Pa. The plant here primarily processes chicken and a small amount of beef for the restaurant industry. Keystone operates 55 facilities in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. Turner said some major customers are McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.

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.

City officials stressed that the Keystone expansion retains those jobs while adding jobs. Turner said there is was “real possibility” that the company could have located the expansion elsewhere. He said the company wanted to stay in Gadsden but also looked at other locations. He said the company has a good relationship with Gadsden.

Turner said the plant here annually processes 70 million pounds of chicken and beef. Capacity at the new plant will increase to 120 million to 140 million pounds.

Construction on the Keystone project will begin this month, with completion expected in the fall of 2009, Turner said.

According to information given to the council, the company plans to use the existing facility as a secondary processing plant or to sell it.

Guyton thanked Rainbow City officials for deannexing a portion of the property owned by Gadsden that was in the Rainbow City limits. Guyton said the step was necessary for the project to go forward.

As part of the package to keep the Keystone facility here, the city of Gadsden will four-lane Airport Road, provide traffic signals and extend utility service to the site and construct a waste-water treatment plant. That will cost an estimated $6 million.

State Sen. Larry Means, D-Attalla, announced at the meeting that Gov. Bob Riley and the Alabama Department of Transportation committed $2 million to the project from industrial access funds. He displayed an oversized check for $2 million signifying the state’s commitment to the project.

“To be able to retain jobs and create new jobs, too, is just great,” Means said.

Officials said the four-laning and utility extension will open up additional property for development, creating potential industrial sites for hundreds of jobs near the airport.

By Andy Powell,

Times Staff Writer