Prepping for change in business-centric administration

by Steve Krut
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 Liz Boyle
Dr. Liz Boyle (left) of Kansas State Univ. is working at the University Meat Lab in Manhattan, Kansas, on experiments to improve shelf life in processed meats, which will greatly assist smaller procesors.

With a new, more business-centric administration coming on line in Washington, a cross-section survey of those who are part of and interface with the small, independent meat processor community yields discussion of elements that may portend some striking changes ahead in 2017.

For the past five years Mark and Gwen Croghan have operated Chalet Market of Montana in the community of Belgrade, not far from Yellowstone National Park. They describe their area as booming with growth and an unemployment rate of about 3 percent.

“While that’s a nice thing to see, it also means we have a tight labor market and have to compete with plenty of businesses who offer high-paying construction jobs,” Gwen explains. “We’ve had the business five years and specialize in elk and bison meats, but they are getting more difficult to find and more expensive. Bison went up about $3 a lb. in the past year, but some of our other meat products like beef and pork have leveled off more recently.

“We operate under federal inspection and that limits our sources of supply in this vast region. If we had state inspection, we would have less of a problem locating locally sourced meats, which are what customers want to buy.”

With only four other employees in their plant in addition to themselves, the Croghans also operate a deli and gift shop and a few satellite retail markets. At one point they were up to 28 employees and with the limited options of Obamacare, decided to discontinue that coverage and downsize a bit and offset the loss of a medical benefit by giving their workers higher wages.

“It’s a very tough labor market,” Gwen continues. “What we need are employees who know how to make sausage and they are a rare find. We would like to expand and add on, but the availability of knowledgeable workers is holding us back.”

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