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Clemens begins processing at Coldwater pork plant

COLDWATER, Mich. — A long-awaited pork processing plant has opened in Coldwater. The plant, located about 125 miles southwest of Detroit, is owned by the Clemens Food Group and employs more than 800 people, according to a Sept. 1 report from Michigan Radio.

Once the facility is running at full capacity it will be able to process at least 10,000 hogs a day. “This is the biggest thing we’ve had in 30 years,” said Mary Kelpinski, CEO of the Michigan Pork Producers Assoc., in the report. Farm World could not reach her for a separate interview as of press time.

This is the first major pork processing plant in Michigan since Thorn Apple Valley processing plant in Detroit closed in 1998.

“1998 was a terrible, terrible year for pork producers,” Kelpinski added. “Most pork producers lost a lot of money that year and really dipped into their savings. And a lot of that was because there wasn’t enough processing capacity.”

According to a July 27 report in National Hog Farmer, the Coldwater plant will ramp up to a full one shift by early next year and will significantly increase pork processing capacity nationally.

Several large Eastern Corn Belt producers were instrumental in getting the plant built, but they do not own a share in it; instead, they now own a minority stake in the entire company. Some of the producers who helped found the plant are Ottawa County’s Fred Walcott, Harley Sietsema, Joel Phelps, Cass County’s Ed Reed and Kalamazoo County’s Pat Hunter.

Clemens Food Group has one other plant, located in Hatfield, Pa. Most of the pork that is processed at the Coldwater plant will be marketed and sold under the Hatfield Quality Meats name, which is well known on the East Coast. Most of the pork products made at Coldwater will be fresh.

“With only a limited amount of processing in the state of Michigan and good operations of substantial size, a lot of the hogs have been going to processing plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois,” Walcott said in a July 2015 press release from Michigan Farm Bureau. “It became obvious it was time for Michigan to take a serious look at the possibility of keeping those hogs right here.”

Clemens spokesman Ernie Meily said the company is in a “sold-out position on a lot of our value-added products, so we needed more raw product to expand our business. We found our producer partners here in Michigan were really open to our processes, and we felt that would really help us grow and expand the Clemens Food Group footprint.”

The plant project was announced in December 2014. The project not only received buy-in from farmer investors, it also received taxpayer buy-in through the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) in the amount of $12.5 million in Community Development Block Grant funds. These dollars went to the city of Coldwater for infrastructure improvements, land acquisition, workforce development and on-the-job training for the new development.

According to a statement from MEDC, 644 of the 800 jobs created by the new facility will be directly supported by the block grant.

“Today’s announcement marks a major milestone in the history of our company and the future of pork production in the state of Michigan,” said Doug Clemens, CEO of Clemens Food Group, on Dec. 16, 2014.

“On behalf of our more than 2,000 employees, our family shareholders and our family farm partners who have joined us in this venture, we thank Governor Rick Snyder and leaders in Michigan and Coldwater and Coldwater Township for having the vision to see the opportunities to position the state to compete in the global pork market.”