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Iowa Press #2751 - Wythe Willey and John Whitaker
August 20, 2000

Borg: CONTROVERSY BOILS CONCERNING A PROPOSED MEAT PROCESSING PLANT IN CENTRAL IOWA. WE'LL PUT QUESTIONS ON THE TABLE FOR WYTHE WILLEY OF THE IOWA CATTLEMEN'S ASSOCIATION AND JOHN WHITAKER OF THE IOWA FARMERS UNION ON THIS EDITION OF IOWA PRESS.

FUNDING FOR IOWA PRESS WAS PROVIDED BY FRIENDS OF IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION. AND BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS.

THIS IS THE SUNDAY, AUGUST 20TH EDITION OF IOWA PRESS. HERE IS DEAN BORG.

Borg: GOVERNOR TOM VILSACK SUPPORTS IT. THE IOWA LEGISLATURE SUPPORTS IT. STOCKMEN, CATTLE PRODUCERS, HOG PRODUCERS SUPPORT IT AND, BY AND LARGE, FARMERS, IN GENERAL, ARE BEHIND THE IDEA. THE IDEA IS TO BUILD A CENTRALLY LOCATED MEAT PROCESSING FACILITY IN CENTRAL IOWA. AND THE IOWA LEGISLATURE HAS SAID IT'S READY TO PUT UP THE SEED MONEY FOR THAT PROJECT. BUT IN THE COMMUNITIES INVOLVED, THERE'S STIFF OPPOSITION. "NIMBY," NOT IN MY BACKYARD, HAS BECOME THE CLARION CALL FOR A NUMBER OF SMALL AND MIDSIZED IOWA COMMUNITIES WHO SAY THEY DON'T WANT ANY PART OF A PROCESSING FACILITY. EFFECTIVE OPPOSITION HAS BEEN MOBILIZED AGAINST THE PROJECT. THOSE OPPOSING SAY NEGATIVES FAR OUTWEIGH THE POSITIVES. WELL, TWO FARMERS WHO ARE CLOSE TO THE ARGUMENTS AND KNOW THE ISSUES JOIN US TODAY. JOHN WHITAKER IS PRESIDENT OF THE IOWA FARMERS UNION. WYTHE WILLEY REPRESENTS THE IOWA CATTLEMEN'S ASSOCIATION. GENTLEMEN, WELCOME BACK TO IOWA PRESS. AND ACROSS THE TABLE, TWO PEOPLE YOU KNOW WELL: DAVID YEPSEN, OF THE DES MOINES REGISTER AND KAY HENDERSON OF RADIO IOWA.

Henderson: MR. WILLEY, LET'S TAKE A STEP BACK. DOES IOWA NEED THIS PLANT?

Willey: YES, IT DOES.

Henderson: WHY?

Willey: RIGHT NOW WE PRODUCE A LOT OF CATTLE YET. WE USED TO BE NUMBER ONE IN CATTLE PRODUCTION. BUT WE'RE FOURTH OR FIFTH IN CATTLE PRODUCTION NOW. IT'S A MAJOR PART OF OUR AG ECONOMY, PROBABLY THE BIGGEST CASH EARNER IN IOWA. 50 PERCENT, OVER 50 PERCENT OF THOSE CATTLE GO TO ONE BUYER. WE NEED MORE COMPETITION. 70 PERCENT OF THOSE CATTLE GO OUTSIDE OF THE STATE. THEY GO TO NEBRASKA, MINNESOTA, ILLINOIS, PENNSYLVANIA, KANSAS. WE WOULD BE FAR BETTER OFF TO HAVE THOSE CATTLE STAY HERE AND ADD VALUE TO THEM IN IOWA.

Henderson: MR. WHITAKER, DOES IOWA NEED THIS PLANT?

Whitaker: I THINK IOWA NEEDS A BEEF PACKING PLANT OR MAYBE A SERIES OF SMALLER BEEF PACKING PLANTS. I GUESS I WOULD TEND TO LOOK AT NEEDING FOUR OR FIVE PLANTS LOCATED AROUND THE STATE SO THAT EVEN THE CORNERS AND FRINGES WOULDN'T HAVE AS FAR TO DRIVE TO GET TO A PLANT.

Henderson: MR. WILLEY, WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO PUT THIS PLANT?

Willey: WELL, THE BEST PLACE TO PUT THE PLANT IS WHERE THE CATTLE AND THE LABOR AND THE TRANSPORTATION ARE. WE WOULD LOVE TO HAVE FOUR OR FIVE PLANTS IN IOWA, BUT WE'VE GOT TO HAVE ONE FIRST. IN FACT, THERE ARE A NUMBER OF OTHER PLANTS IN THE WORKS, BUT A SMALLER PLANT JUST HASN'T WORKED OUT. BASICALLY, CENTRAL IOWA IS GOOD, ANYWHERE IN CENTRAL IOWA. WE HAVE A LOT OF CATTLE RAISED IN BOTH THE WESTERN END AND THE EASTERN END OF IOWA. AND IN THIS PARTICULAR PROJECT, THERE'S A REAL NEED FOR WESTERN ILLINOIS CATTLEMEN TO HAVE A PLACE TO GO, SO PROBABLY SOMEPLACE ALONG INTERSTATE 80 OR I-35 OR WHERE THERE'S GOOD TRANSPORTATION TO GET THOSE CATTLE TO.

Henderson: MR. WHITAKER, WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE MAP OF IOWA, WHERE DO YOU SEE THE NEED FOR A PLANT?

Whitaker: AS YOU LOOK AT THE MAP, YOU COULD PUT A PLANT, I BELIEVE, ANYWHERE. TRANSPORTATION -- WE'VE BEEN HAULING CATTLE 4-, 5-, 6OO MILES FOR A LONG TIME. WE'D LIKE TO GET AWAY FROM THAT. I REALIZE THAT. WE DON'T NEED TO BE HAULING OUR CATTLE THAT FAR TO SLAUGHTER. IT UNDULY STRESSES THE ANIMALS. WE NEED A PLANT WHERE PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO HAVE A PLANT. THAT'S THE KEY, I BELIEVE.

Yepsen: MR. WILLEY, MOST OF THE PEOPLE WATCHING US TODAY DO NOT FARM. THEY'RE NOT IN THE CATTLE BUSINESS. WHY SHOULD IOWANS CARE ABOUT THIS ISSUE?

Willey: I THINK IOWANS CARE FIRST ABOUT THEIR GENERAL ECONOMY, AND I THINK THEY CARE ABOUT AGRICULTURE. REMEMBER, IOWA IS AN AGRICULTURAL STATE. WE DON'T HAVE ANY OCEANS OR MOUNTAINS. OUR COMPARATIVE VALUE IS BEST PRODUCED IN AGRICULTURE. THE CATTLE BUSINESS IS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. I THINK IF YOU CARE ABOUT THE ECONOMY AND YOU CARE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT, YOU'LL CARE ABOUT THE CATTLE INDUSTRY, AS WE PROPOSE IT TO BE, AND THEY SHOULD BE VERY STRONG FOR IT.

Yepsen: MR. WILLEY, WHY NOT PUT THIS PLANT IN OTTUMWA? YOU'VE TRIED TO GO TO IOWA FALLS. A LOT OF PEOPLE THERE DON'T WANT YOU THERE. YOU'VE TRIED TO GO TO CAMBRIDGE; A LOT OF PEOPLE THERE CLEARLY DIDN'T WANT YOU THERE. YOU FINALLY DECIDED THAT WAS NOT A GOOD SITE. AND YET, YOU'VE GOT OFFICIALS IN OTTUMWA THAT SAY, "HEY, BRING IT DOWN HERE. WE'D LOVE TO HAVE THIS PLANT. WE HAVE A MEATPACKING TRADITION AND CULTURE IN OTTUMWA." WHY DON'T YOU TAKE THAT PLANT TO OTTUMWA?

Willey: WELL, OTTUMWA IS CERTAINLY AN OPTION AND WE'RE HEARTENED BY THE FACT THAT OTTUMWA IS SO STRONG FOR THE PLANT. IN FACT, I THINK -- BY THE TIME THIS PROGRAM AIRS, THE PRESIDENT OF EXEL AND CATTLEMEN WILL HAVE MET WITH THE MAYOR OF OTTUMWA. OTTUMWA KNOWS ALL ABOUT EXEL. THAT'S THE ONE PLANT THAT EXEL HAS IN IOWA. OBVIOUSLY, THEY LIKE THEM. WHETHER OR NOT WE HAVE ENOUGH OF A LABOR SUPPLY AND IT'S GOOD FOR THE CATTLE SUPPLY, I DON'T KNOW.

Yepsen: WE SHOULD PROBABLY -- I'M SORRY.

Willey: GO AHEAD.

Yepsen: NO, I SAID WE SHOULD PROBABLY MAKE IT CLEAR TO OUR VIEWERS THAT IT'S YOUR PLAN FOR THE CATTLEMEN'S ASSOCIATION AND EXEL CORPORATION TO JOIN TOGETHER TO BUILD THIS PLANT, IS THAT CORRECT?

Willey: YES, AND THAT'S WHY THIS IS DIFFERENT. NO PLANT WITH THIS KIND OF MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE HAS EVER BEEN BUILT. THIS WOULD BE OWNED AND MANAGED 50 PERCENT BY THE CATTLEMEN, 50 PERCENT BY EXEL. IT'S A TRUE PARTNERSHIP.

Yepsen: MR. WHITAKER, YOU'RE FROM SOUTHEAST IOWA. DOES EVERYBODY DOWN IN SOUTHEAST IOWA WANT THAT PLANT?

Whitaker: I'VE HEARD SOME MINOR OPPOSITION SO FAR. I'VE NOT HEARD A LOT OF MAJOR OPPOSITION TO IT IN SOUTHEAST IOWA.

Yepsen: DO YOU THINK IT SHOULD GO TO OTTUMWA?

Whitaker: I DON'T SEE A PROBLEM WITH IT GOING TO OTTUMWA. IT'S GOT TO GO SOMEWHERE WHERE THE PEOPLE WANT IT -- WHERE IT HAS A COMMUNITY THAT HAS THE SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE TO BE ABLE TO HANDLE AN INCREASED LOAD OF FAMILIES IN THE SCHOOLS AND THOSE THINGS. IT'S GOT TO GO SOMEWHERE WHERE YOU'VE GOT PHYSICAL INFRASTRUCTURE. OTTUMWA WILL HAVE A FOUR-LANE HIGHWAY. THAT WILL BE GOOD FOR THE TRANSPORTATION OF PRODUCT IN AND OUT.

Yepsen: MR. WHITAKER, IF YOU WERE -- I MEAN, I CAN UNDERSTAND YOU'RE IN FARMING IN SOUTHEAST IOWA. YOU MIGHT NOT WANT -- THAT'S FINE WITH YOU TO PUT THAT PLANT CLOSE BY. IT SAVES YOU TRUCKING TIME. BUT IF YOU WERE A CATTLEMAN IN SIOUX COUNTY, WHAT'S THE ADVANTAGE TO HAVING THIS PLANT IN OTTUMWA?

Whitaker: PROBABLY NOT A LOT OF ADVANTAGE TO A CATTLEMAN IN SIOUX COUNTY. BUT A CATTLEMAN IN SIOUX COUNTY IS ABLE TO GO TO SOME OF THE FLAGSHIP PLANTS OF OTHER ORGANIZATIONS, ACROSS THE STATE LINES TOO.

Borg: MR. WILLEY, A FEW MINUTES AGO YOU SAID CATTLE RAISING IS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. THERE MAY BE A LOT OF PEOPLE WATCHING THIS PROGRAM THAT PICKED UP ON THAT COMMENT AND WANT TO KNOW, "WHAT DOES HE MEAN BY THAT?"

Willey: WELL, WHAT I MEAN BY THAT IS A GRAZING ANIMAL IS INTEGRAL TO ANY ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEM, AND PARTICULARLY CATTLE RAISING IN IOWA WHERE CATTLE ARE DISBURSED. THE AVERAGE COW HERD IN IOWA IS ONLY ABOUT 30 HEAD. AND THE AVERAGE FEED LOT IN IOWA IS, OF COURSE, MUCH SMALLER THAN IT IS IN KANSAS OR TEXAS, WHERE YOU GET FEED LOTS UP TO 100,000-HEAD CONCENTRATION. THAT'S NOT OUR VISION. OUR VISION IS THE FAMILY FARM, WHERE PEOPLE CAN RAISE CATTLE IN CONJUNCTION WITH A CROPPING OPERATION, A MODERATE-SIZED TO SMALLER-SIZE OPERATION AND BE PART OF ADDED VALUE OF THEIR CROPS AND THEIR PASTURE AND THEN TAKE THAT PRODUCT ON TO A PLANT AND GAIN GREATER VALUE FROM THIS PROCESS.

Borg: YOU MAY WANT TO EXPLORE THAT LARGER FEED-LOT CONCEPT HERE JUST A LITTLE BIT LATER. BUT, AS WE LOOK TOWARD POSSIBLE LOCATIONS OF PLANTS, THERE IS A PLANT THAT'S JUST REOPENED OVER IN THE TAMA AREA, THE TAMA PROCESSING PLANT. DOES THAT AT ALL CHANGE THE CONCEPT OF YOUR PROPOSAL HERE, THE REOPENING OF THAT PLANT?

Willey: THE TAMA PLANT HAS BEEN AND WILL BE COW PROCESSING PLANTS. WHEN IBP HAD IT, IT WAS THE LARGEST COW PROCESSING PLANT IN THE COUNTRY. THIS IS FOR MARKET ANIMALS AND THAT'S A DIFFERENT KIND OF -- DIFFERENT KIND OF SITUATION.

Borg: I SEE. SO IT DOESN'T APPLY.

Willey: NO, BUT WE'RE STILL -- WE IMPORT COWS FOR THE COW PLANT. WE IMPORT A LOT OF HOGS FOR HOG PROCESSING PLANTS, BUT WE ARE EXPORTING OUR MARKET CATTLE.

Henderson: LET'S EXPLORE THE INFRASTRUCTURE THAT YOU THINK WOULD BE NECESSARY FOR A COMMUNITY TO HAVE TO BE HOST OF THIS PLANT. MR. WHITAKER, WHAT SORT OF INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS TO BE IN PLACE?

Whitaker: YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO HAVE SCHOOLS THAT ARE GOING TO BE LARGE ENOUGH OR THE ABILITY TO ADD TO THOSE SCHOOLS. IF WE LOOK AT ADDING 1,100 FAMILIES TO ANY COMMUNITY IN THIS STATE, WHAT COMMUNITY IS GOING TO BE ABLE TO HANDLE THAT INFLUX? MOST OF OUR RURAL COMMUNITIES -- AND I'M GOING TO CALL FROM 2,500 DOWN -- COULD HANDLE AN INFLUX 100 FAMILIES PRETTY EASILY, BECAUSE OF THE MIX OF AGES OF FOLKS THAT WOULD BE INVOLVED IN THAT. 5,000 TO 2,500 COULD PROBABLY HANDLE A COUPLE HUNDRED FAMILIES MOVING IN. BUT YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE SOMETHING THAT'S GOING TO BE -- SOME COMMUNITY THAT'S GOING TO BE LARGE ENOUGH TO START WITH. FOR THE CATTLEMEN'S ASSOCIATION, FOR OUR SAKE AS PRODUCERS, WE NEED TO BE ABLE TO MOVE PRODUCT IN, SO WE NEED ADEQUATE TRANSPORTATION. THERE'S GOING TO HAVE TO BE ADEQUATE GROUND TO KIND OF ISOLATE AND INSULATE THE PLANT, BECAUSE A PLANT HAS ITS OWN, LET'S SAY, PROBLEMS WITH NOISE, ODORS, AND THOSE TYPES OF THINGS. THAT JUST NATURALLY OCCURS AROUND A PACKING PLANT. I'VE WORKED A LITTLE BIT IN ONE. I KIND OF KNOW A LITTLE ABOUT THAT. AND I THINK THAT ONE OF THE INFRASTRUCTURES THAT'S GOT TO BE IN THERE IS A WAGE SCALE THAT REWARDS PEOPLE FOR THAT TYPE OF WORK, BECAUSE IT IS HEAVY LIFTING, DIFFICULT LABOR, AND A LOT OF THE OTHER ASSOCIATED SOCIAL THINGS THAT YOU HAVE IN THAT PROCESS.

Henderson: MR. WILLEY, ARE THOSE THE COMPONENTS THAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR IN A COMMUNITY?

Willey: YES, I AGREE WITH ALMOST EVERYTHING JOHN SAID. YOU'RE NOT GETTING MUCH OF A DEBATE HERE. BUT I WILL SAY, FIRST OF ALL, IF THIS PLANT IS LOCATED IN CENTRAL IOWA, IOWA WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT HAS IDENTIFIED ABOUT 2 1/2 TIMES AS MANY PEOPLE THAT ARE ALREADY HERE THAT WOULDN'T HAVE TO MOVE THAT WOULD TAKE THOSE JOBS. BUT JOHN IS RIGHT, YOU'VE GOT TO BE PREPARED FOR ANY KIND OF ADDITIONAL BURDEN ON THE SCHOOLS BEFORE THAT ADDED TAX REVENUE HITS THE SCHOOL DISTRICTS. AND I THINK PRE-PLANNING IS GOOD. TRANSPORTATION IS IMPORTANT. ONE POINT I WANT TO MAKE IS THIS IS NOT A MEGAPLANT. THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE THE BIGGEST PLANT IN THE WORLD. IT WOULD START OUT BEING ABOUT HALF AS BIG AS SEVERAL OTHER PLANTS AROUND THE COUNTRY. WE WANT IT TO BE THE BEST, AND CERTAINLY THERE WILL BE A LOT MORE AUTOMATION, A LOT MORE MECHANIZATION OF THE PLANT. AND THERE WILL BE UP TO 1,000 WORKERS BUT, REMEMBER, A LOT OF THOSE PEOPLE WILL BE SUPERVISOR AND CLERICAL AND PEOPLE THAT ARE MOVING CATTLE AND DOING ALL THE OTHER THINGS. THEY WON'T ALL BE "LINE WORKERS."

Henderson: ONE THING PLANTS LIKE THIS USE A LOT OF IS WATER. IS A COMMUNITY GOING TO HAVE TO MAKE THAT INVESTMENT IN ENHANCED WATER SUPPLY FOR THIS PLANT? IS EXEL AND THE CATTLEMEN GOING TO DO THAT? HOW WILL YOU HANDLE THAT WATER SUPPLY ISSUE?

Willey: BASICALLY, UNLESS YOU HAPPEN TO HAVE A COMMUNITY THAT HAS EXCESS WATER OR WATER PROCESSING ABILITY, THE PLANT WOULD BE PRETTY MUCH SELF-SUFFICIENT IN BOTH WATER AND IN WATER TREATMENT AS IT LEAVES THE PLANT. PLANTS USE A LOT OF WATER. REMEMBER, THIS IS A FOOD PRODUCTION FACILITY AND EVERYTHING HAS GOT TO BE CLEANED AND WASHED A LOT. AND ALMOST ALL PLANTS HAVE THEIR OWN TREATMENT PLANT FOR THE DISPOSAL.

Yepsen: MR. WILLEY, I UNDERSTAND WHY YOU FOLKS WANT THIS PLANT: YOU WANT A PLACE TO SELL YOUR GOODS. THAT'S UNDERSTANDABLE. BUT DO THE REST OF US WANT IT? GO BACK TO WHAT DEAN WAS TALKING ABOUT AT THE OPEN, "NIMBY," NOT IN MY BACKYARD. THIS IS AN INDUSTRY THAT HAS A HORRIBLE REPUTATION AS BEING BAD CORPORATE CITIZENS. THEY SMELL AND THEY MAKE A LOT OF NOISE, AS MR. WHITAKER POINTS OUT, AND THEY ALSO PAY PRETTY POOR WAGES. YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE EARNING AROUND $20,000 A YEAR. NOW, WHY DO WE WANT TO ENCOURAGE AN INDUSTRY LIKE THAT IN THIS STATE?

Willey: I'M GOING TO AGREE WITH ABOUT EVERYTHING THAT YOU SAID AND ADDRESS THAT, BUT I FIRST WANT TO TELL YOU WHAT I DON'T AGREE WITH. THIS IS NOT POOR PAYING WAGES.

Yepsen: $20,000 A YEAR IS THE --

Willey: THE AVERAGE WAGE -- HAD THE PLANT GONE IN STORY COUNTY - THE AVERAGE WAGE OF THIS PLANT WOULD HAVE BEEN SOMEWHAT ABOVE THE AVERAGE OF THE STORY COUNTY WAGE RATE NOW. FOR MANY PEOPLE, A PACKING PLANT OFFERS A VERY GOOD WAGE. PEOPLE CAN EARN OVER $30,000 A YEAR WORKING IN A PACKING PLANT IF THEY STAY THERE A WHILE AND THEY GET TO WORK ON TIME. BUT LET ME ADDRESS THE OTHER ISSUES YOU'VE GOT. IT TOOK A HUNDRED YEARS FOR THE PACKING INDUSTRY TO BUILD KIND OF A NEGATIVE REPUTATION. WE UNDERSTAND WE'RE NOT GOING TO TURN THAT OVER OVERNIGHT. BUT I WOULD SAY GIVE US A CHANCE TO PROVE WHAT A NEW PACKING PLANT WOULD LOOK LIKE AND DO. IT'S A MODERN FOOD-PRODUCING FACILITY. ONE HAS NOT BEEN BUILT IN THIS COUNTRY FOR ABOUT TWENTY-FIVE YEARS. I DO BELIEVE THAT IF THIS WENT INTO ANY COMMUNITY, IT WOULD BE AN ASSET TO THE COMMUNITY. IT WOULD BE MANY HIGH-PAYING JOBS. THE GENERAL WAGE SCALE WOULD BE PRETTY GOOD. ONE OF THE REASONS THAT CATTLEMEN PICKED EXEL OVER OTHER COMPANIES WAS EXEL'S AND CARGILL'S GOOD REPUTATION IN THE COMMUNITY WHERE THEY HAVE PLANTS. REMEMBER, CARGILL HAS GOT A BUNCH OF PLANTS IN IOWA. I THINK THEY'VE GOT MORE PLANTS IN IOWA THAN ANY OTHER PLACE WHERE THEY HAVE PLANTS. EXEL HAS A PLANT IN OTTUMWA. THEY HAVE A WONDERFUL IMAGE AND THEY'RE POSITIVE FOR THE COMMUNITY. AND GENERALLY, IN AN INDUSTRY THAT'S HAD SOME WORKER SAFETY PROBLEMS AND SOME LABOR PROBLEMS, THEY'VE BEEN AT THE TOP OF THE LINE.

Yepsen: LET ME FOLLOW UP WITH THAT WORKER ISSUE. YOU SAY IF THEY SHOW UP ON TIME AND IF THEY WORK, THEY'LL EARN AS MUCH AS $30,000 A YEAR. ISN'T IT TRUE THOUGH THAT INDUSTRY HAS A HUGE TURNOVER IN LABOR? THEY CHEW UP HUMAN BEINGS, CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME AND THAT ALL THAT. PEOPLE CAN'T WORK THAT LONG AND, AS A RESULT, THEY HAVE TURNOVER IN THEIR EMPLOYEES OF UPWARDS OF 45 PERCENT WITHIN FIVE YEARS.

Willey: I'LL GRANT YOU THAT TURNOVER IS ONE OF THE PROBLEMS IN PACKING PLANTS.

Yepsen: SO THEN HOW CAN YOU SAY THERE'S AN EXISTING POOL OF WORKERS HERE IN IOWA NOW? IN FACT, AREN'T YOU GOING TO BE IMPORTING CHEAP LABOR, PROBABLY FROM MEXICO?

Willey: WELL, I DON'T -- THERE IS AN EXISTING POOL OF IOWA. IOWA WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT, IN A 30-MILE RADIUS FROM WHERE WE'RE SITTING, HAS SAID THAT THERE ARE FROM 2,672 TO 4,800 WORKERS WHO WOULD TAKE THOSE JOBS. REMEMBER, WE HAVE A LOT OF PEOPLE WORKING PACKING PLANTS NOW. AND I THINK BOTH JOHN AND I HAVE WORKED IN PACKING PLANTS, AND THEY ARE NOT BAD JOBS. IT WAS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR ME, AND I THINK I'M BETTER FOR HAVING WORKED THERE. AND MANY PEOPLE CAN FIND GAINFUL EMPLOYMENT. TURNOVER IS A PROBLEM, BUT EXEL DOES NOT WANT TO LOSE SOMEBODY THAT'S GONE TO WORK FOR THEM. BY THE TIME THEY'VE GOT THEIR INITIAL TRAINING, THEY'VE GOT $5,000 INVESTED IN THAT WORKER, AND THE ABILITY TO KEEP THOSE WORKERS IS OF PRIME IMPORTANCE.

Borg: MR. WHITAKER, YOU SAID YOU GENERALLY AGREE WITH THIS IDEA, ALTHOUGH YOU'D LIKE TO HAVE MAYBE FIVE REGIONAL PLANTS, SMALLER ONES. SO IN THE PRINCIPLE OF ECONOMICS, IF THIS IS SUCH A GOOD IDEA, SUCH GOOD BUSINESS, THERE'S PROFIT TO BE MADE, WHY AREN'T PACKING COMPANIES THEMSELVES, RATHER THAN ASSISTANCE FROM THE STATE, ENCOURAGEMENT BY THE STATE AND THE IOWA CATTLEMEN'S ASSOCIATION, WHY DON'T THEY MOVE IN IF THIS IS SUCH GOOD BUSINESS?

Whitaker: YOU KNOW, I'M NOT CLOSELY ASSOCIATED WITH THE PACKING INDUSTRY ENOUGH TO KNOW WHY THEY WANT TO -- WOULD OR WOULDN'T WANT TO MOVE INTO THIS STATE. I THINK THAT WHERE WE'VE GOT A SUPPLY OF PRODUCT THAT NEEDS TO BE PROCESSED, ANYONE WOULD WANT TO COME IN AND PROCESS THAT, BUT I DO THINK THAT IT TAKES SOME COOPERATION AMONG GROUPS. WE'RE SEEING THAT IN ALL PHASES OF AGRICULTURE. IT'S A HUGE INVESTMENT ANYMORE TO EITHER BE INVOLVED IN PRODUCTION AGRICULTURE OR PROCESSING. I REALIZE THAT. PARTNERSHIPS MAY BE THE WAY TO GO. WE DO THAT A LOT IN OUR ORGANIZATION, PARTNERSHIP WITH PROCESSORS IN OTHER STATES TO PROCESS PRODUCT. IT'S A DIFFICULT QUESTION TO REALLY LOOK AT.

Borg: WHAT DO YOU THINK, MR. WILLEY? WHY AREN'T THEY COMING IN AND BUILDING IT THEMSELVES?

Willey: WELL, I THINK THE VERY ISSUES THAT YOU'VE RAISED IN THIS DISCUSSION ARE WHY IT'S TOUGH TO GO IN AND PUT A NEW PACKING PLANT ANYWHERE. THE LAST PLANT THAT WAS BUILT IN NORTH AMERICA WAS IN CANADA, AND IT STARTED IN 1988. INCIDENTALLY, THE PRESIDENT OF EXEL IS THE ONE WHO BUILT THAT PLANT, SO HE'S GOT THE EXPERTISE IN DOING IT.

Borg: LET ME ADD JUST ANOTHER TO YOU, THEN, MR. WILLEY, BUILT ON THAT. AREN'T YOU REALLY SAYING "BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME," AS FAR AS THE INCREASE IN CATTLE NUMBERS IN IOWA? AREN'T YOU JUST HOPING THAT IF YOU BUILD A PLANT THAT THE ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT FOR CATTLE RAISERS WILL BE BETTER AND FEED LOTS WILL INCREASE IN IOWA?

Willey: WELL, RIGHT NOW WE'VE GOT -- WE'VE GOT FAR MORE THAN AMPLE SUPPLIES OF CATTLE FOR A PLANT. WE'RE SENDING 70 PERCENT OF OUR CATTLE OUT OF THE STATE. AND INCIDENTALLY, SINCE WE'VE ENTERED INTO THIS PARTNERSHIP WITH EXEL, WE ARE SENDING 2,000, AND WE THINK WE'RE GOING TO MOVE THAT UP TO 4,000 HEAD A WEEK ON A PARTNERSHIP GRID SYSTEM TO THE SCHUYLER PLANT IN SCHUYLER, NEBRASKA, WHICH IS ON HIGHWAY 30 JUST WEST OF THE IOWA-NEBRASKA BORDER. AND THAT'S BEEN A PROJECT THAT'S ADDED A LOT OF VALUE TO THE EVERDAY MARKET OF CATTLE ALREADY, AND THOSE PEOPLE THAT HAVE SENT THOSE CATTLE ARE GETTING EXTRA MONEY. THEY'RE GETTING EXTRA FEEDBACK ON THE QUALITY OF THEIR CATTLE, WHETHER THEY'RE PRODUCING THE KIND OF CATTLE FOR TODAY'S MARKET. AND IT'S BEEN VERY POSITIVE, BUT WE'VE GOT PLENTY OF CATTLE RIGHT NOW.

Yepsen: MR. WHITAKER?

Whitaker: I THINK THAT WE MAYBE WANT TO COME BACK TO SOMETHING DAVE TALKED ABOUT EARLIER. PACKING PLANTS HAVE A REPUTATION FOR CHEWING UP EMPLOYEES BECAUSE WE'VE SPEEDED THE PLANTS UP. WE'VE SPEEDED UP THE LINE. WE DEMAND SO MUCH. THE OTTUMWA AREA HAS HAD A LONG HISTORY OF BEING IN THE MEAT PROCESSING BUSINESS. THERE WERE PEOPLE THAT WORKED IN THOSE OLD PLANTS THAT STAYED THERE THIRTY, FORTY YEARS. THEY MADE A CAREER OUT OF IT. THEY MAKE GOOD WAGES. THAT WAS PART OF THE KEY TO KEEPING EMPLOYEES. THEY ALSO -- THEY WERE NOT BEING PUSHED INTO BEING ACCIDENT PRONE, SHALL WE SPEAK. SO THAT'S WHY I LOOK AT A SMALLER PLANT, OR A SERIES OF SMALLER PLANTS, BEING A BETTER OBJECTIVE FOR US TO HAVE, BECAUSE IF WE HAD FOUR OR FIVE SMALLER PLANTS, THAT DID NOT MOVE AT THE MASSIVE SPEED THAT A LARGER PLANT HAS TO MOVE AT BECAUSE OF OVERHEAD, WE WOULD NOT GO THROUGH THE EMPLOYEES AS FAST. THEN WE WOULD HAVE MORE OF AN AVAILABLE LABOR POOL. AND THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE REALLY NEED TO LOCATE A PLANT.

Borg: YOU CAN'T FIND ONE COMMUNITY TO ACCEPT. ARE YOU GOING TO FIND FIVE?

Whitaker: WHEN YOU'RE LOOKING AT A SMALLER PLANT, I GUESS THE NEGATIVES ARE SMALLER WITH A SMALLER PLANT, IN MY OPINION. I THINK IT WOULD BE EASIER FOR A COMMUNITY TO ACCEPT A PLANT THAT'S GOING TO NEED A COUPLE HUNDRED FAMILIES TO SUPPORT IT, AS FAR AS THE LABOR POOL.

Borg: KAY?

Henderson: SPEAKING OF THE HISTORY OF THE MEATPACKING INDUSTRY HISTORICALLY, IN RECENT YEARS SPANISH-SPEAKING PEOPLE HAVE BEEN HIRED TO MAN THESE PLANTS. ONE OF THE COMPLAINTS ABOUT THESE PLANTS IS WE DON'T WANT THESE PEOPLE IN OUR COMMUNITY. SOME PEOPLE CALL THAT RACISM. WHAT DO YOU CALL IT, MR. WILLEY?

Willey: WELL, I'M NOT GOING TO ACCUSE ANYBODY OF ANYTHING, BUT TRADITIONALLY PACKING PLANTS AND MANUFACTURING HAS BEEN AN ENTRY-LEVEL POSITION FOR IMMIGRANTS. WE'VE HAD A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF IMMIGRATION IN THE LAST TEN YEARS. AND MANY OF THOSE IMMIGRANTS LOOK TO WORK IN PACKING PLANTS, BUT THEY HAVE THE SAME VALUES THAT WE DO. THEY'RE LOOKING FOR THE SAME THINGS THAT WE ARE. WE'RE A NATION OF IMMIGRANTS AND WE SHOULD WELCOME THOSE PEOPLE WITH OPEN ARMS AND MAKE THEM FEEL AT HOME, AND THEY'LL BE AN ASSET TO OUR COMMUNITY. WE NEED THEIR ENERGY AND THEIR INGENUITY AND THEIR FAMILY VALUES IN OUR STATE.

Whitaker: I DON'T SEE THAT AS RACISM ANY MORE IN A RURAL COMMUNITY OR IN AN URBAN COMMUNITY. YOU'RE ALWAYS GOING TO HEAR A LITTLE OF "I DON'T WANT THOSE PEOPLE," BUT LIVING IN A RURAL COMMUNITY ALL MY LIFE, I HAVEN'T REALLY SEEN THAT. WE HAVE IMMIGRANT PEOPLE, WHETHER THEY'RE FROM MEXICO OR WHETHER THEY'RE FROM THE EASTERN REGIONS, WHATEVER, COME INTO OUR AREA. IN A LOT OF RURAL AREAS, WE CONSIDER SOMEBODY FROM FOUR COUNTIES OVER BEING AN IMMIGRANT. IT'S THE FACT THAT THE BURDEN ON OUR SOCIAL INFRASTRUCTURE, OUR SCHOOLS AND THE LIKE, IS REALLY WHAT BOTHERS RURAL COMMUNITIES, AND NOT GETTING A TAX DOLLAR BECAUSE OF A TEN-YEAR ABATEMENT TO HELP OFFSET THAT. IT ADDS THE BASE BACK TO THE FARMERS THAT SUPPORT THAT IN THE AREA.

Yepsen: MR. WILLEY, IF YOU WANT TO ENCOURAGE THE CATTLE INDUSTRY, AREN'T YOU ENCOURAGING MORE LARGE FEED LOTS? MANY OF US HAVE DRIVEN OUT TO COLORADO AND DRIVEN BY SOME OF THOSE HUGE FEED LOTS, MASSIVE THINGS. THEY SMELL. WOULDN'T YOU, IN FACT, BE ENCOURAGING IN THE BEEF CATTLE INDUSTRY WHAT HAS OCCURRED IN THE HOG INDUSTRY, WHICH IS A CONCENTRATION, AND WE'LL JUST WIND UP WITH MORE LARGE FEED LOTS IN IOWA?

Willey: ON THE CONTRARY. THIS PROPOSAL IS TO HAVE THE KIND OF FEED LOTS WE NOW HAVE IN IOWA. MOST FEED LOTS IN IOWA HAVE LESS THAN A THOUSAND HEAD, AND THAT'S THE KIND OF PERSON THAT'S SIGNED UP. OUR AVERAGE FEED LOT, 98 OUT OF THE 99 COUNTIES IN IOWA HAVE SOMEBODY THAT SIGNED UP IN THIS PROJECT. I THINK THE AVERAGE OF THOSE IS ABOUT 350 HEAD A YEAR THAT THEY WOULD COMMIT TO THE PLANT. BIG FEED LOTS DON'T NEED HELP WITH THE MARKET. THEY'RE BIG ENOUGH TO HAVE THEIR OWN MARKET POWER. WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO IS KEEP FROM HAPPENING WHAT HAPPENED IN THE POULTRY INDUSTRY AND WHAT WE SEE HAPPENING IN THE HOG INDUSTRY. WE'RE TRYING TO HELP THE FAMILY FARMER, MAKE HIM STRONGER, MAKE HIM PART OF A COOPERATIVE EFFORT TO BE ABLE TO DEAL WITH A PROCESSOR ON AN EQUAL FOOTING.

Yepsen: AND YOU SAID THIS WOULD BE A MODERN PLANT. YOU ALSO SAID THE LAST ONE THAT WAS BUILT WAS IN 1988 IN CANADA. WHAT IS A MODERN PLANT? WHAT GUARANTEES DO YOU HAVE THAT THIS THING WON'T STINK, WON'T POLLUTE? HOW CAN YOU BUILD A MODERN -- WHAT IS A MODERN PLANT? WE HAVEN'T SEEN ONE FOR TWENTY-TWO YEARS.

Willey: WELL, IT'S A LITTLE HARD TO DESCRIBE WHAT YOU HAVEN'T SEEN.

Yepsen: WEREN'T WE --

Willey: WELL, I'VE BEEN TO THE PLANT IN CANADA, AND IT'S AN ATTRACTIVE PLANT. IT'S ABOUT 25 MILES OUT OF CALGARY, AND IT'S QUITE A BIT DIFFERENT. THIS IS NOT THE PLANT YOUR GRANDFATHER BUILT. THE OLD MONFORT PLANT WAS BUILT IN THE 1920S, I THINK, OR REJUVENATED THEN. IT WAS AN OLD, OLD PLANT. THEY'RE DIFFERENT. YOU KNOW, CARS ARE DIFFERENT. TRACTORS ARE DIFFERENT. WE HAVE COMPUTERS NOW. WHEN THEY BUILT THE LAST PLANT IN THIS COUNTRY, NOBODY KNEW WHAT A COMPUTER WAS, EXCEPT UP AT IOWA STATE. AND THINGS ARE DIFFERENT. THERE'S A LOT MORE AUTOMATION. THERE'S A LOT MORE ROOM BETWEEN WORKERS. AND SOME OF THE INDUSTRIES, EXEL IN PARTICULAR, HAVE MADE A LOT OF IMPROVEMENTS IN TERMS OF WORKING ON THE LINE. THERE'S A LOT MORE ROOM BETWEEN WORKERS. MANY OF THE PEOPLE ARE SITTING IN CHAIRS AND THE CHAIRS ARE AUTOMATED. THEY MOVE UP AND DOWN.

Borg: I CAN REMEMBER WE HAD DECKERS IN MASON CITY; WE HAD SWIFT IN SIOUX CITY; WE HAD WILSON’S IN CEDAR RAPIDS; WE HAD RATH IN WATERLOO; OTTUMWA HAD A PACKING PLANT. ALL OF THOSE HAVE CLOSED. WHY WOULD THEY CLOSE IF IT'S ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE FOR BEEF PACKING IN IOWA?

Willey: EVERY INDUSTRY HAS TO GO THROUGH A REBUILDING PHASE. THOSE PLANTS CLOSED BECAUSE THEY WERE OLD AND ANTIQUATED, AND EVENTUALLY THEY WERE LOCATED IN DOWNTOWN IN THE CITY. ALMOST EVERY CITY IN IOWA GREW AROUND A PACKING PLANT AND A STOCKYARDS. FIRST THE STOCKYARDS WENT. REMEMBER CHICAGO WAS A HUGE STOCKYARD FACILITY, AND THEN THEY PUT THE PACKING PLANTS AROUND THE STOCKYARDS. FORTY, FIFTY YEARS AGO, IBP PIONEERED THE IDEA OF TAKING THE PACKING PLANTS OUT WHERE THE LIVESTOCK WERE LOCATED. THAT'S WHERE YOU GOT THE DENISON PLANT. THAT WAS THE NEXT GENERATION. THOSE PLANTS THAT YOU MENTIONED HAVE EITHER BEEN COMPLETELY REBUILT OR CLOSED AND PUT INTO SOMETHING ELSE. AND NOW IT'S TIME FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF PACKING PLANTS TO BE BUILT.

Yepsen: MR. WILLEY, WHY DON'T YOU CATTLEMEN AND THE FARM COMMUNITIES IN THE STATE GET TOGETHER AND DO THIS ON YOUR OWN? PART OF THE PROBLEM HERE IS THE REPUTATION OF THESE MEATPACKING COMPANIES. YOU MAY THINK EXEL HAS A BETTER IMAGE, BUT THE FACT IS THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T THINK IT'S THAT GREAT. WHY DON'T YOU DO THIS ON YOUR OWN.? WHY DON'T YOU GO IT ALONE? WHY DON'T YOU SAY TO HECK WITH THESE MEATPACKING COMPANIES, GET YOU FARM FOLKS TOGETHER, AND DO IT RIGHT? WHY DON'T WE DO IT THE IOWA WAY?

Willey: WE ARE DOING IT ON OUR OWN AS MUCH AS IS REASONABLE. ONE THING IS WE ENTERED INTO THIS, FARMERS AND COWBOYS DON'T REALLY KNOW HOW TO RUN A PACKING PLANT, SO WE'RE DOING IT ON OUR OWN. BUT WITH -- AND THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS, WE DEAL IN AN EXPORT AND TO SOME EXTENT A GLOBAL ECONOMY. AND EXEL HAS BRANDED PRODUCTS; THEY'VE GOT CASE-READY PRODUCTS; THEY HAVE A VERY STRONG PRESENCE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD. THIS PLANT WOULD GIVE THE IOWA FARM COMMUNITY ACCESS TO THOSE MARKETS THAT EXEL HAS BUILT UP. SO IT'S A GOOD PARTNERSHIP, BUT WE'RE DOING IT ON OUR OWN TO EXTENT THAT WE CAN AND THAT'S REASONABLE.

Whitaker: I'D AGREE WITH THAT PART BUT WE'VE PROVEN IN OTHER INDUSTRIES THAT FARMERS KNOW -- DON'T KNOW HOW TO RUN A PACKING PLANT OR DON'T KNOW HOW TO RUN A WHEAT PROCESSING OR A CORN PROCESSING OR AN ALCOHOL PLANT OR ANY OF THOSE THINGS. BUT WE DO KNOW HOW TO HIRE COMPETENT MANAGERS TO DO THAT. THE COOPERATIVES HAVE DONE THIS FOR YEARS. I THINK IT'S AN EXCELLENT WAY OF APPROACHING THIS.

Yepsen: MR. WILLEY, WE'VE GOT LESS THAN THIRTY SECONDS. WHAT GUARANTEE DO YOU HAVE THAT IF YOU PARTNER -- IF YOU FORM THIS JOINT BUSINESS WITH EXEL THAT IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS THAT EXEL WON'T WANT TO BUY YOU OUT, AND ALL OF A SUDDEN WE'VE JUST CREATED ANOTHER IBP?

Willey: WE KNOW ABOUT EXEL. IT'S A 50/50 PARTNERSHIP. WE ARE PUTTING IN AS MUCH MONEY AS THEY ARE. IF THIS PLANT IS SUCCESSFUL, OUR PEOPLE ARE NOT IN ANY WAY GOING TO WANT TO SELL OUT.

Borg: WE'RE GOING TO WAIT FOR THE NEXT CHAPTER ON THIS. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Willey: THANK YOU.

Borg: WE'RE OUT OF TIME. THANKS FOR BEING HERE. ON OUR NEXT EDITION OF IOWA PRESS, WE'RE BACK TO THE POLITICAL ARENA TO DISCUSS THE SUMMER CAMPAIGN SEASON AND THE FALL CAMPAIGN SEASON. YOU'LL RECALL THAT KAYNE ROBINSON, CHAIR OF THE IOWA REPUBLICAN PARTY, JOINED US TWO WEEKS AGO AFTER THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION. AND NEXT SUNDAY THE CHAIR OF THE IOWA DEMOCRATIC PARTY, ROB TULLY, WILL BE HERE TO TALK OVER THE JUST-COMPLETED DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION AND THE CONGRESSIONAL AND STATEHOUSE CAMPAIGNS HERE IN IOWA. THAT'S NEXT SUNDAY AT NOON AND 7:00 HERE ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION. AND WE LEAVE YOU TODAY REMINDING YOU THAT YOU CAN HOOK UP WITH IOWA PRESS ON THE WORLDWIDE WEB. CLICK IN ON WWW.IOWAPRESS.IPTV.ORG. AND THERE YOU'LL FIND TRANSCRIPTS OF PAST EDITIONS OF IOWA PRESS, REPORTER COMMENTARIES, NEWS LINKS TO TOPICS THAT WE DEAL WITH HERE AT THE TABLE... AND SOME OTHER THINGS, TOO, THAT WILL INTEREST YOU. THAT'S IT FOR THIS WEEK'S EDITION OF IOWA PRESS. I HOPE YOU'LL WATCH NEXT SUNDAY AT NOON AND 7:00. UNTIL THEN, I'M DEAN BORG. THANKS FOR JOINING US TODAY.

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