Where’s the beef? It may be in Oakland — and it may not — depending on what kind of food items are eventually made there.
Details of the recent purchase of the failed Mississippi Beef Processors plant in the small Yalobusha County community are hard to come by. What will be processed there is a closely held secret by the purchaser, Windsor Quality Food Company, which is headquartered in Houston, Texas.
The privately held firm makes frozen ethnic (Mexican, Asian, etc.) foods at nearly a dozen plants across the United States.
Windsor spokesperson Lynn Sutter said that details about the operation will not be released for some time due to various reasons, including not tipping off competing companies to Windsor’s strategy. She referred to a standard press release that quotes Windsor’s president and CEO Greg Geib stating that the Oakland plant will produce “a variety of frozen ethnic products under Windsor’s branded banners as well as customers’ own brands.”
What Windsor may or may not make, however, is muffled by the collective sigh of relief heard around Yalobusha County.
“I’m glad to see this deal go through,” said George Suggs, Yalobusha County supervisor of the district where the 140,000-square-foot plant is located. He said his primary concern is getting the jobs in a county that approaches 10% unemployment.
According to the Windsor press release, the plant should go on line in early 2008 with 150-200 employees. That number could increase to 400 as possibly eight production lines are eventually opened.
Suggs expects pay “to be above minimum wage.”
Wyman Jones, chief credit officer for Community Bankshares, was among those breathing a sigh of relief following the late June sale of the property. The plant operated for only a few months, costing Mississippi taxpayers more than $50 million to build and equip.
Community Bank got the beef plant when it foreclosed on former owner Richard Hall, recently convicted on several counts regarding the plant’s operation and failure.
“That was a great day,” Jones said with a laugh about the day Windsor signed the purchase papers. He said a liquidation appraisal around the time the bank acquired the plant in February 2005 estimated about 18 months for it to sell.
“There was tremendous interest in this plant,” said Adam Metcalfe, owner of Mobile-based Metcalfe & Co. Inc, the real estate brokerage firm that listed the plant in June of last year. “We showed it six times, which is a lot for something like this.
“They were all in the food business and not a single one was in beef.”
After Community Bank foreclosed, the Mississippi Development Authority signed a six-month option to market the propertyt failed to find a buyer so Community, said Jones, tried marketing the plant itself.
“The beef industry has gone through some lean times,” Jones commented, not entirely tongue-in-cheek. The realization that the property would have to be marketed nationally resulted in signing with Metcalfe, who worked with a Dallas-based C.B. Ellis Richard real estate colleague, Chuck Finney.
At a distance
Metcalfe explained that “there was so much politics” involved with the plant and its controversial history that marketing required a firm with some distance from it. “It was a big black eye. Politicians didn’t want any part of it and the bank was tired of it.”
The final purchase price has not been disclosed.
Amy McMinn, chancery clerk of Yalobusha County, said the county will perform some infrastructure tasks during the next few months, including repainting the elevated water tank, which still reads “Mississippi Beef Processors.” The truck road will be extended all the way around the building, as well as some erosion repaired around the wastewater settling lagoon.
She added that employee training will likely take place at the WIN Center through Northwest Mississippi Community College.
“It’s great, it’s wonderful,” declared McMinn.
Supervisor Suggs lives a mile from the plant, which he drives past every day: “I’ll be real glad to see more traffic there.”