When seeking community improvement, it is important to keep in front of mind the essence of the place sought to be improved. North Platte is a small city in the heart of farm and ranch country. We are blessed with the presence of Bailey Yard and are a hub for medical, professional, financial, retail, transportation and entertainment businesses serving the area. All provide vital jobs to our friends and neighbors and play significantly in the economic health of North Platte. But, like much of this state where one in four jobs depends on the agricultural industry, farming and ranching are the lifeblood of our town and area.
So when thinking about bringing more good jobs to our community, developing industry to bolster and expand opportunities, and encouraging investment in the area, value-added agriculture businesses are a natural. We are a gateway to the Sandhills, one of the most fantastic natural areas for raising cattle that exists. We are smack dab in the middle of some of the world’s most productive farm ground for growing corn and other cattle feed. We are surrounded by feedlots where cattle are fattened. Our position on the U.P. line, Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 83 provides top-notch transportation access. We raise cattle here, we feed cattle here, and we can transport anything from here.
If there is any industry that is a more obvious fit for North Platte than processing beef, it is hard to imagine what it would be. It is unlikely that we will ever be building computers here. Or manufacturing automobiles. Or milling lumber. Or welcoming tourists to Disney World II. But butchering cattle? Yes, that makes 100% perfect sense. If we genuinely want more jobs, industry, investment and opportunities here — something I have heard for the 30-plus years I have lived in North Platte — the prospect now presented by the proposed Sustainable Beef plant is exactly what we seek.
Projections are that the plant will employ about 875 people, roughly one-third of the number working at Tyson in Lexington. Compared to other meat-packers in the area, Sustainable Beef is a relatively small company that is primarily owned and operated by Nebraskans. The company’s representatives indicate that line workers will earn $50,000 annually. Building the facility involves an investment of nearly $300 million, which will ultimately become a significant addition to our tax base. Spinoff industry to support the plant will create more jobs, investment and opportunity. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss estimates that all of this presents $1 billion in total economic impact to the area. That’s “billion” with a “B.”
In our town, like many others, it often seems just second nature to oppose change. Change can be hard or scary. Change can generate emotional and uniformed reactions. Rational response to proposed change depends largely upon willingness to consider facts.
North Platte Police Chief Dan Hudson has studied pertinent data and statistics and reports that the fear that the proposed plant will bring increased crime is not supported by the facts. As Chief Hudson noted, “We have higher crime rates than all of the cities in the state that have processing plants other than Omaha and Grand Island.”
City Engineer Brent Burklund assures us that our wastewater plant and power systems have sufficient capacity and potential for expansion to handle any increase in need on those fronts.
Our public-school officials confirm the ability to absorb and educate the expected additional students with open arms, as state funding is based largely on enrollment numbers, which have been going down in recent years.
The proposed site is adjacent to the city’s sewage lagoons, so odor issues are part of the already-existing circumstances in the area. The plant will be required to pass muster with environmental and wetland regulations — you know, those regulations we bemoan so loudly as obstacles to desired development until something is happening in our community that we rightly want to be sure will not harm our water, air, soil and environment.
Growing our town, providing opportunities to our children and grandchildren, and ensuring the economic viability of our community for generations to come depend upon something just like this prospect. Turning this chance away would be akin to the city’s founders saying “no thanks” to Union Pacific in the latter half of the 1800s. Sustainable Beef’s proposed plant fits North Platte like a hand in a glove. Let’s grasp and embrace the opportunity this investment offers. If not this now, what industry will ever be welcomed here?