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Hormel opens $89 million Iowa plant

DUBUQUE, Iowa — Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger's last visit here came in April 2008 to, as he put it, "turn a spade in a dirt field."

At the time, Hormel Foods Corp. was breaking ground on an $89 million production facility to make the company's Compleats microwave meals, which were experiencing annual sales growth of 30 percent to 40 percent.

On Tuesday, two years later, Ettinger went back to Dubuque to celebrate the opening of Progressive Processing, a 348,000-square-foot plant that started in January and is considered a national model for sustainability and energy management.

A lot has happened in those two years.

In fall 2008, the United States had a "near financial meltdown," Ettinger said, and there was a time when Hormel, "with one of the most conservative balance sheets in the food industry," could not have borrowed money.


Compleats also started experiencing a 10 percent to 15 percent decrease in sales in the recession, Ettinger said.

Company officials, he said, recognized the need to restructure the Compleats product line and to focus their attention on making sure "our 118-year-old company would survive in the future," including by delaying some expansions, putting a hold on new positions and cutting spending.

"We also recognized that, even in hard times, it's crucial to continue to invest in the future," Ettinger said. "That spirit of innovation is not something you can just turn the spigot on and off and have it ready for you when you want."

Room to grow

Progressive Processing, a subsidiary wholly owned by Austin-based Hormel, has a lot of open space inside, but Hormel officials don't think it will last long.

The plant is operating one production line for Compleats with 90 employees, but another 50 workers are expected to be hired for a second shift during the next few months, officials said.

By year's end, the plant should have more than 200 employees, Ettinger said, with the possibility of growing to 300. Hormel expects to announce the addition of a canning line there by the end of summer.

Help for Hormel


Hormel's new plant is on the city's west edge in the Dubuque Industrial Center, which hosts numerous companies.

Hormel received millions of dollars in local and state incentives to build the plant in Dubuque, and, among other reasons, company officials liked its proximity to their main distribution center in Eldridge, Iowa.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, in a speech, said Hormel has invested in eight Iowa communities, where it employs about 1,800 people. In tough economic times, Dubuque has shown the country what's possible, he said, and it remains one of the best cities to do business in.

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