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Kirksville Kraft Heinz exceeds hiring expectations

After an ongoing expansion and renovation, a major Heartland employer has now exceeded initial expectations. (KTVO File)

After an ongoing expansion and renovation, a major Heartland employer has now exceeded initial expectations.

In November 2014, shockwaves were sent through northeast Missouri when Kraft Heinz announced plans to move its bacon production line from the plant in Kirksville to a facility in Coshocton, Ohio. Kirksville Regional Economic Development Incorporated (K-REDI) Executive Director Carolyn Chrisman says that would have resulted in a devastating blow to Kirksville's economy.

"[It was] three or four years ago when that announcement came out and you know, there really was a fear that the entire plant might shut down," Chrisman says now.

Despite that news, Chrisman and the city remained hopeful, because they had a plan.

In December 2015, it was announced that Chrisman had been in talks with Kraft Heinz to actually expand the plant and bring in new production lines. Later that same month, Kirksville City Council members approved a $229 million expansion project at the facility.

Chrisman says that although the work has been ongoing, it has been a relief to see everything begin to come together.

"To see it through and to be a part of the process, working with the company on getting incentives for them and having them go through the process of expanding has been fun," Chrisman said. "The people out there have been great to work with."

A performance agreement and lease agreement assumed the expansion would be complete by October 2016, and that the facility would be operating at full capacity. However, due to unexpected delays, the construction was not finished during the initial timeline. Per that agreement, Kraft Heinz was also required to maintain no fewer than 479 full-time jobs.

But because of the delays and employment not being at its peak, council members voted to extend the agreement until November 2017.

Thanks to the extra time, the employment numbers have far exceeded the initial expectations.

"They are currently up to 900 people out there," Chrisman said of the facility. "About 860 of them are direct full-time employees, and another 40 are temporary. Not only have they kept the original number of employees that they had back 2-3 years ago, but they have added quite a bit, and so we are just really pleased with that."

Chrisman added that in addition to employment being high, the plant itself has more than doubled its original size with even more work taking place behind the walls of the facility.

"The outside of the building has been done for quite a while. But a lot of the improvements on the inside -- state-of-the-art equipment to produce the bologna, the cotto salami, round white turkey and square ham -- are inside, and all the new lines are up and in production."

But the work at Kraft Heinz isn't done yet -- Chrisman says the company also has plans to renovate the older section of the facility which is slated to begin in the fall.

In a time when many communities across the country -- and in Missouri -- are struggling to keep manufacturing jobs, Chrisman says this expansion would never have been possible without the continued support from the City of Kirksville, council members and residents as a whole.

"These projects take a long time. It's not a quick one month, two month, six month, one year deal. It really is a much longer process, and so it's been very exciting to see not only the growth of Kraft, but the growth of Kirksville in general. It's a lot to be proud of."

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