ST. PAULS — Sanderson Farms began full operations at its St. Pauls processing plant on Jan. 10 and the company’s director of development and engineering, said operations the first week couldn’t have gone better.
“We’re right on schedule and everything is going as we planned,” Bob “Pic” Billingsley said. “We’re processing 40,000 birds a week now and that’s really good. We had a great week last week and we expect another great week this week … It’s been fun.”
The $115 million plant, located on N.C. 20 just west of St. Pauls, when fully operational will employ more than 1,000 workers and process about 1.25 million chickens a week. According to Billingsley, there are currently more than 500 employees working at the facility.
Billingsley said early last month that hiring of workers, mostly from Robeson County and nearby, will continue weekly through 2017 and into the first part of 2018 until the target goal of 1,100 employees is met.
The plant was originally scheduled to be up and running on Jan. 9, but because of inclement weather the Laurel, Mississippi-based poultry giant decided to postpone the plant’s first day of full operations until the next day.
Billingsley said that just after observing operations at the plant for a few days he is already “impressed with the quality of the workforce.” He also said that the location of the plant in St. Pauls is “absolutely perfect.”
“We still have some outdoor work to finish with the landscaping and so on, but the contractors are all supposed to be finished with that work by Feb. 1,” Billingsley said.
County Manager Ricky Harris said Wednesday that Sanderson Farms has already proven that it is going to be a great addition to the county. The company was quick to respond in the early days of Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts by donating truckloads of ice and other items.
“They have already been a good corporate neighbor,” Harris said. “I think this is an outstanding accomplishment for the county, St. Pauls and the citizens of the county to bring such an outstanding company like Sanderson Farms to Robeson County. This company brings good paying jobs, good salaries, good benefits and the chance for advancement for our citizens. ”
The opening of the St. Pauls plant comes in the wake of late last year’s opening of the company’s $17 million hatchery and local headquarters in Lumberton. The chickens now being processed at the St. Pauls plant were hatched in Lumberton.
The hatchery is expected to employ about 75 people in white collar jobs, with the jobs averaging about $50,000. a year.
Sanderson’s processing plant site in St. Pauls is included on a prestigious national list of projects that could encourage more companies to locate and do business in Robeson and surrounding counties, according to local officials. Early last year, the company was listed as No. 13 out of the 20 “Most Impactful Site Selection Projects in 2015” as identified by the Site Selection Group, which describes itself as a “leading independent location, advisory and economic incentives firm providing solutions to corporations and communities across the world.”
The rankings were based on the size of the community, capital investment, job creation, and other economic factors.
St. Pauls Town Administrator J.R. Steigerwald said also noted that the company had jumped right in and thrown its support into Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts.
“They presented a $25,000 check to help with county disaster recovery efforts,” he said. “They haven’t made a dime in Robeson County and this shows what kind of corporate citizen they are going to be.”
Steigerwald also said that he was pleasantly surprised that during the construction of the plant he received no complaints about the work disrupting the community.
“I have dealt with a lot of projects in my life and this is not usually the case,” he said. “The town received no complaints about the project. There were no complaints about mud, or about noise. I was impressed how well the construction went without disrupting the community.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.