Flour milling company, a ConAgra Foods' joint venture, to call Denver home

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Posted: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 12:00 am

The Denver metropolitan area has been chosen over Omaha and Minneapolis as home to the headquarters of ConAgra Foods' new joint-venture flour-milling company, Ardent Mills, ConAgra officials said Tuesday.

Ardent Mills, to be owned 44 percent by Omaha-based ConAgra, will combine ConAgra Mills and Horizon Milling, a joint venture of Minnesota companies Cargill and CHS.

While Omaha was considered as a possible headquarters, Denver offers advantages specific to the proposed company's flour business, ConAgra officials said. Ardent Mills would have several customers with large bakery operations in the Denver area, allowing the firm to work closely with those customers on product innovation.

Ardent Mills also would have strong relationships with Colorado farmers. ConAgra Mills “has extensive relationships with wheat farmers, industry organizations and area universities in Colorado,” ConAgra spokeswoman Becky Niiya said. She said ConAgra Mills has facilities in Commerce City, Colo., and Denver, where it makes flour products such as Ultragrain, a whole-grain flour that looks and tastes like refined white flour.

Denver also was noted for its quality of life, the company said, and state and local incentives, still being finalized, came into play. The Kansas City area was also considered, ConAgra said.

A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development said she couldn't comment about whether Nebraska tried to get the company to locate here.

The Denver Post reported that one advocate for the company in Colorado was Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers. Hanavan told the Post that he attended a bicycle tour event just so he could get the ear of Gov. John Hickenlooper. Hanavan told the Post, “Gov. Hickenlooper immediately saw the economic development opportunity” and offered to call ConAgra Mills President Bill Stoufer.

ConAgra confirmed that Hickenlooper did make the call but said many factors related to customers, employees and operations were taken into consideration when making the decision.

Colorado officials estimate the operation could bring 250 jobs.

ConAgra Mills has about 1,000 employees, including 100 at its Omaha headquarters. ConAgra said most of those are expected to remain at the company's downtown Omaha campus for several months after the transaction is completed.

Staffing plans and numbers have not been finalized, but employees are being provided regular updates, the ConAgra spokeswoman said. Ardent Mills would operate satellite offices in Omaha and Minneapolis.

“We are enthusiastic about making the Denver region the home of Ardent Mills and are eager to establish the company's roots there after the transaction is completed,” said Stoufer, who will serve as Ardent Mills' chief operating officer and chief integration officer.

“Our intent is to help our customers innovate and grow in a dynamic marketplace, and Ardent Mills will be in a great position to do that in the Denver area,” he said.

The joint venture transaction is expected to close late this year pending regulator clearances, financing and other closing conditions. The plan is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust division and a number of wheat-producing states, but ConAgra officials have said they expect the deal to spur competition and innovation in the industry.

The new company would have a presence in the Denver metropolitan area starting in 2014.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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