TONGANOXIE, Kan. – What started as a celebratory event to announce plans by Tyson Foods Inc. to build a $320 million poultry complex in Leavenworth County, Kansas, on about 300 acres just south of Tonganoxie’s city limits developed more than a hint of controversy as some opponents to the project voiced their dissatisfaction with what many claimed was a surprise announcement to residents of the city and the surrounding area.
In comments before making the official announcement, Doug Ramsey, Tyson’s group president of poultry, told a standing room-only crowd gathered in the city’s Brunswick Ballroom, “Six months ago, I couldn’t have told you where Tonganoxie, Kansas is.” He added, “I can tell you today that Tonganoxie, Kansas, is the center of the Tyson universe.”
Upon making the official announcement of Tyson’s plans for what will be a $320 million project, including a feed mill, hatchery and processing plant, Ramsey discussed the company’s historical ties to Kansas and the economic benefit the complex will bring. As he began explaining the “why” behind choosing a location just outside Tonganoxie, a spattering of opposing voices could be heard in the crowd, including more than one unidentified attendee who said, “We don’t want it.” Ramsey responded by stating that a series of town hall meetings are slated to address residents’ concerns about the impact of the project.
Outside the venue, a small group of protesters gathered, some holding signs critical of Tyson’s business practices and its threat to family businesses.
Also addressing the crowd and drawing plenty of attention from residents and the media, was Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who pointed out that Tyson has maintained operations in the state for more than 50 years and is regarded as an exemplary corporate citizen. He added that the new complex represents Tyson’s first new meat-processing facility project in over 20 years.
“They will be held to every standard the state of Kansas has,” Brownback said. “And I’m delighted to hear that they are going to have a series of town hall meetings in the area to listen to and hear about peoples’ local concerns, which are legitimate and need to be heard and need to be addressed and must be dealt with,” he said.
The new complex represents the seventh Kansas community where Tyson maintains operations. It estimates its total financial impact in fiscal 2016 was more than $2.4 billion, which included grain purchases, utilities, property taxes and charitable contributions.