Vilsack visits RMH Foods plant, touts Recovery Act

by Bryan Salvage
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MORTON, Ill. – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the RMH Foods LLC processing facility in Morton, Ill, Tazewell County, on April 2. While there, he discussed efforts by the Obama Administration to create a new foundation for economic growth, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), which, he said, helped to keep the RMH Foods fully cooked entrée plant open and retain its 133 jobs. Funding was made available through U.S.D.A. Rural Development's Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan Program.

"U.S.D.A.'s work to help the plant's former owners reacquire the facility and keep it open is another great example of how the Recovery Act is helping save and create jobs for hard-working citizens all across America," Mr. Vilsack said.

The Rocke family founded RMH Foods in Morton, Ill., in 1937 and operated it until Smithfield Foods acquired it in October 2001. The plant's future, however, was uncertain after Smithfield announced plans to sell the portion of its portfolio that included RMH Foods.

Jonathan Rocke, a third-generation family member of the original owners and president and chief executive officer of RMH Foods, assembled a group of investors to pursue purchasing the plant to keep it open and continue operations at its current location. RMH Acquisition LLC, the firm that was established by Mr. Rocke and his investors, used a $6.65 million Recovery Act guarantee of its loan with Morton Community Bank to complete the purchase of the company. U.S.D.A. Rural Development awarded the loan guarantee in January, 2010.

“We participated in U.S.D.A. Rural Development's Business & Industry Guaranteed Loan Program, which has been around for a long, long time,” Mr. Rocke told MEATPOULTRY.com, “and it was a good thing because it gave the bank a level of confidence and the ability to do [the loan] at a financing level we needed.

“All U.S.D.A. was doing [during Mr. Vilsack’s trip to the RMH Foods plant] was highlighting the program and celebrating some of the victories – and they decided to come here, which was a real privilege,” he added.

Keeping the RMH Foods plant open will benefit the local economy. Morton and surrounding Tazewell County have experienced an unusually high number of job losses during the past 18 months. And the Recovery Act loan guarantee allowed RMH Foods to remain in Morton, retain its 133 employees and contracts with local partners, as well as continue to support the local tax base, U.S.D.A. concluded.

When asked if he had any advice to other processors interested in getting a similar loan. Mr. Rocke replied, “If [a processor] is looking to expand, for example, they should contact their state U.S.D.A. offices to find out [if they qualify]. You have to either be in a rural area or there are some qualifications under being an agri-processor that helps you qualify – even if you aren’t in a rural area. We’re located in Morton, Ill., and we classified [as being in] a rural development area.”

A processor of co-packed, private-label and branded fully-cooked entrées for retailers, RMH (Rocke’s Meat Haus) Foods announced in January it plans to enter the fully-cooked foodservice and deli segments of the industry under its new operational structure. (See “Rocke family reacquires RMH foods” in the Jan. 4 edition of MEATPOULTRY.com.)

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