When the operator of a small, family owned meat processing plant in Minnesota first met Chris Young face to face, he told him that when he spoke to him on the phone a few months earlier, “I knew right away you were a real meat guy!”
To Young, who succeeded Dr. Jay Wenther and moved into the executive director spot for the American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP) this past December, that was the ultimate compliment.
As unpretentious as plain vanilla ice cream, Young has advanced quickly but thoughtfully to move the 1,300-member small meat processor trade organization into a service and growth mode.
“I came aboard the association as an outreach specialist in April of 2013,” he reflects. “I had applied for the executive director position, but took this [outreach] spot when it was offered. That was a blessing in disguise.
“The job gave me an opportunity to talk with members one-on-one, without the ‘executive’ label. That meant the members could talk openly with me. I talked their language and knew firsthand the concerns they were sharing based largely on my meat plant experience.”
Young lists the five passions in his life as his faith, his family, his industry, hunting and capturing treasures from flea markets, antique and yard sales. It is his devotion to doing things he loves with flair that makes him special.
Now 52, Young started out helping a few friends who bought an old Amish butcher shop near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1988 and began making beef jerky under the name of Wild Bill’s. He sold product for the owners and took samples to farmers markets and sportsman shows. As the 5,000-sq.-ft. plant saw business grow, his role evolved, moving into quality control responsibilities. He took numerous short courses and learned more about total quality control.
A devotee of details in processing, Young later took on assignments for management and eventually overall plant management for Wild Bill’s, which had only a handful of employees.
When Hatfield purchased the facility in the mid-1990s, Young assisted with the design and oversight of the construction of a 12,000-sq.-ft. addition. The plant was such a success that AAMP sponsored a tour of the facility during its 2000 convention held in Lancaster.
When Hatfield later sold that business to Monogram Foods and the company transferred operations to Martinsville, Virginia, Young decided to stay close to home and hone his antique and flea-marketing skills, but at the same time he worked with Kegel’s, a produce company that specialized in fresh-cut orders for hotels, restaurants and casinos. After about a year, he took a position with Berks Packing in nearby Reading and spent nearly three years running their ham production.
Since Young has been at AAMP, the association has seen its membership grow for the first time in the past decade. And the new growth phase has not been a fluke.
“I feel a strength I bring to AAMP is my genuine interest in listening to the members about their needs and where we can help them,” he explains. “They are for the most part small and very small businesses where they have to do everything for themselves. If we can wade through books of regulatory changes and proposals and give them the main points of what it means for them, that tremendously helps them understand what is coming and lets them decide their future steps in a more informed manner.
“We are also aware that the local food movement is spurring growth for smaller plants whose customers want to know where their meats come from. Their time is best spent meeting that demand. We also are seeing some small plants growing in volume and progressing on to other specialty areas. I feel it is important for our association to increase the seminars, workshops, webinars and Internet opportunities to assist them as well.
“We want to begin producing more of our own training videos and programs that enable us to give the members help in instructing their employees in areas like humane handling, maintenance and processing techniques.”
Young says AAMP will soon be bringing another outreach specialist to the association, which would take the AAMP staff to five full-time and one part-time employee.
“We want to continue to co-sponsor programs with other trade associations,” Young says, “but we want to give the smaller plants in our organization the biggest bang for their bucks so that we can and do things specially tailored to them.”
Young has maintained a yeoman’s pace since taking over as AAMP’s chief, traveling across the country. He says interfacing and listening to the needs of members is a top priority. In fact, after three months, Young still holds court in his original office and has not yet found time to move into the more spacious office occupied by the former executive director.
The affable Young is setting a high priority on member retention and believes AAMP will become a more vocal and valued voice in the regulatory and legislative arena in Washington and within the states. The association is not a contributor to political campaigns, but counts on its strong grassroots presence and its decades-long ties with state, regional and provincial associations to let lawmakers and regulators know the small plant sentiments and needs.
Soft-spoken but deliberate in his demeanor and words, Young brushes off concerns about his hectic travel pace or the small staff he works with at AAMP. He feels that advanced communications technology has enabled the organization to operate with fewer people on the staff. The relationship between the members and the staff is critical, he professes.
“We have the most professional, knowledgeable and caring staff of any entity I have ever been involved with and they are committed to serving our members. I believe I have the ability to lead, but this is a team effort with our staff and our board of directors deeply committed to getting our members the help they need when they need it.”
Young and his wife Roxanne have twin daughters and a son, who also works for an AAMP-member plant, Godshall’s Quality Meats in Telford, Pennsylvania. Young, a church elder for 20 years with Faith Bible Fellowship Church in Lancaster, is looking forward to his first grandchild in August.