Nebraska-based Lincoln Premium Poultry broke ground Monday on its $300 million chicken processing plant, hatchery and feed mill — the first of its kind for Costco.
Gov. Pete Ricketts and other officials and stakeholders from Nebraska and Iowa celebrated the new facility, expected to process 2 million chickens per week for the world's second-largest retailer, at the construction site on Yager Road.
"We believe this will have a $1.2 billion economic impact on the state of Nebraska each year," Ricketts said. "That's how we grow Nebraska — with projects like this."
The plant is expected to create 800 jobs in production, information technology, management and other positions. Its first day of production is scheduled for April 15, 2019.
Andrew Harry of Fremont attended the groundbreaking ceremony with his 19-month-old son, Ted Harry, who wore a chicken hat for the occasion.
"We're supporting," he said. "We're happy they're coming. This is a really big deal."
Lincoln Premium Poultry's grower network of 120 farmers in 12 counties will help those farmers "diversify" their revenue with the addition of chicken houses, Ricketts said.
"It will keep the young farmers in the area," he said.
Randy Thelen, senior vice president-economic development for the Greater Omaha Chamber, said the Costco project includes nearly $400 million in new construction at the facility in Fremont as well as for the chicken houses.
"We expect thousands of people to touch this location," he said. "The economic development begins today."
Fremont Mayor Scott Getzschman said the facility "brings stability not only to Fremont, but to a 12-county growers network."
"Now, the heavy lifting begins," he said.
Housing developments are underway, and the city has been in discussions with the Department of Labor to find the workforce for the plant.
Emily Skillett, livestock development coordinator for the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture (AFAN) in Nebraska, said Lincoln Premium Poultry is finalizing contracts and scheduling site visits for the 12-county grower network, which includes Washington County. AFAN will assist producers as they go through the public hearing process in their respective counties.
"Most counties have a planning and zoning hearing," Skillett said.
She added, "We strongly recommend that anyone who's putting up a barn go talk to their neighbors. Nobody likes surprises."
Washington County, which Skillett said has a "small handful" of actively interested chicken producers for Costco, requires them to go through its planning and zoning commission and county board of supervisors.
Ryan Sullivan, planning and zoning administrator for Washington County, said his office has had "a couple people call and ask what the county permitting would be like."
The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality will also conduct site inspections.
Producers can choose how many chicken houses they want to build. The spec buildings come with feeding and watering equipment.
Skillett, a Blair High School alumna, said the grower network is a boon for family farms that need another source of revenue. One producer is returning from Chicago to their family farm in the region because the chicken houses are the only opportunity to make the move viable.
"There are some people who decided to purchase a piece of ground," Skillett said. "There are several people going into business with other people.
"Most of them are families that need help diversifying," she said. "Corn's three-and-a-half dollars a bushel. There are a lot of people who are really struggling to make it in farming right now."