Upper Iowa Beef is a success story in the rough-and-tumble beef processing industry. The firm’s recent announcement that it plans a $7 million expansion at its Lime Springs. Iowa, facility promises a brighter future for beef producers in both Iowa and southern Minnesota.

A look back shows how far the facility, which was called Lime Springs Beef when it opened, has come.

The future looked bleak in summer 2016 when company officials said the plant would be closing after only four months of operation. The officials were tight-lipped about why the plant was stopping its operations. The move was a huge setback for local beef producers who hoped the plant would be a major new marketing opportunity for their animals.

Stephen Eastman, then the chairman of the board and a cattle producer, said at the time that the company wasn’t interested in any publicity about its decision to close.

The plant, which had opened in February 2016, sought cattle within a 100-mile radius of Lime Springs.

Upper Iowa Beef employed 50 full-time workers when it opened and downsized to just two when it closed. Plant general manager Michael Spinks said when it closed that he doubted it would ever reopen.

It appeared that taxpayer dollars -– in the form of a $325,000 outlay to extend a road to the plant would be lost. The Lime Springs FFA, as part of a major effort, bought $20,000 worth of shares in the plant and the Northern Iowa Community College started a job-training program in response.

Many of the 60 shareholders found themselves to be in great financial risk. The state was in position to demand that the firm repay the $325,000 spent on the road.

The plant reopened in December 2017, with more shareholders and a firmer financial foundation. Its planned expansion will increase processing capacity from 500 head a week to about 1,500 head and add 27,000 square feet to the facility.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority is involved in the expansion. The IEDA has given the facility tax benefits. The expansion is expected to create 75 jobs, with some paying as much as $22 an hour.

Few would have expected the plant would have reopened after it closed four months after its startup. It is a much-needed success story for the shareholders and beef producers in both Iowa and Minnesota.

Upper Iowa Beef explains its mission on its website: “Our state-of-the-art plant is the result of the efforts of hundreds of community members, local farmers and families, and municipal and state groups who believe in Iowa’s farmers …’’

It is essential for Upper Iowa Beef and others that depend on locally sourced livestock to succeed in a complex world where international trade relationships can be disrupted.

Upper Iowa Beef has beaten long odds and its survival is important not only for its shareholders -– it is vital for the rural economy.

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