SPRINGDALE, ARK. — Tyson Foods Inc. is renovating its shuttered production plant in Independence, Iowa, and will reopen it as a pet food processing facility in 2010. The Independence plant has been closed since early 2006, when Tyson closed some of its deli-meat operations. Once employing 300 people, the plant had been operating for more than 50 years.

Although Tyson has historically been involved in supplying raw materials for pet foods, this will be the first company facility involved in producing finished, retail-ready pet treats. Approximately $6.6 million will be spent to install equipment and make other improvements in the plant in order to begin pet treat production in early 2010, Tyson said.

Initially, the new operation will employ more than 60 people, including production workers and management; staff is expected to grow to more than 100 within the next couple of years.

Tyson officials said it is premature to provide details about the pet treats for competitive reasons, but did say the products produced at Independence are intended to be sold nationally under multiple brand names.

"The $3 billion pet-treats market has experienced more than an 8% compound annual sales growth over the past five years and does not appear to be adversely affected by the economic slow down," said Dave Hogberg, general manager of Pet Products for Tyson. "We believe this is an area of great opportunity and this initiative is a natural extension of our strategy to value-up raw materials into higher margin categories."

"The Independence plant not only provides us with the physical assets to build on, but it is located in a community where we can have a strong partnership and exceptional labor force," added Gregg Uecker, vice-president of operations for Tyson’s Renewable Products Division.

Once the human resources staff is in place at the plant, Tyson intends to begin filling plant maintenance and production positions in early November.