Chicken plant

A Georgia company that would make chicken for Costco is the firm scouting the Fremont area for a new poultry-processing plant.

The company, calling itself Lincoln Premium Poultry, will be run by a member of a family long-connected to the business of chicken. The family business, Crider Foods, had an immigration raid a decade ago, probably a concern for area residents who have worried about the workforce of the proposed plant.

Lincoln Premium Poultry executive Bill Crider told The World-Herald that immigration matters haven’t been an ongoing problem at Crider Foods, which makes canned chicken for Costco and other retailers, sold under the retailers’ own brand names.

Bill Crider is working with Deloitte Consulting to scout sites for the plant. Lincoln Premium Poultry would operate the plant, which would produce raw chicken made only for Costco.

Darin Buelow, a principal with Deloitte and leader of its real estate and location strategy practice, said it hasn’t been determined how the business relationship between Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry would be structured, or which company would buy the land or own the facility.

The scouting for a possible site for the chicken plant had thus far been done outside of public view: Development officials refused to name the company in public meetings and refused to disclose its name to The World-Herald. State and local officials also refused to disclose the names of the companies involved.

After being contacted by The World-Herald on Thursday afternoon, Crider and Deloitte confirmed that they were involved in the Fremont-area proposal. The companies said they were working on behalf of a customer they wouldn’t name. Later Thursday evening, Costco and Deloitte contacted The World-Herald to say Costco was the customer.

Jeff Lyons, senior vice president for fresh foods at Costco, said in a later interview that Costco likes the Fremont area for a chicken plant because of its central-U.S. location, which he said would make it easy to ship products to its far-flung stores. The site also has good proximity to sources of grain to feed the chickens, he said.

Costco operates 702 warehouse stores, including one in Omaha and another under construction in Sarpy County. The proposed plant would slaughter as many as 1.6 million chickens a week and provide about a third of Costco’s total fresh chicken supply.

Plans for the plant, which emerged last month after Dodge County landowners got wind of it, have been controversial. A meeting of the Nickerson Village Board, which would need to rezone a parcel of land for the plant, drew a large crowd of people, many of whom spoke against a chicken facility coming to the area. Opponents spoke of smells, pollution and — vehemently, at times — worries about the people who would be working at the plant; illegal immigrants could be drawn to the town, they said.

A decade ago, the family company behind the Fremont proposal did have a run-in with federal immigration authorities. The Crider Poultry plant in Stillmore, Georgia, operated by Bill Crider’s father, Billy Crider, was raided in 2006, according to accounts in multiple news media.

The company lost three quarters of its 900-person workforce as a result of the raid, The Wall Street Journal reported at the time; about 125 undocumented workers were removed by authorities and sent to immigration courts; the rest scattered.

After the raid, to replenish its workforce, Crider boosted its hourly pay rate and began recruiting local workers, the Journal reported. Meanwhile, the Athens Banner-Herald newspaper in Georgia reported that the Crider plant also hired workers through an arrangement with the Georgia Department of Corrections. The employees worked to pay off probation violation fines and to pay room and board at a halfway house.

Bill Crider told The World-Herald that the company has never been fined related to the raid.

“It’s not an ongoing issue for the business,” Bill Crider said.

Asked about Crider Poultry’s immigration raid, Costco’s Lyons said, “I wasn’t aware of that other than in passing. It wasn’t anything we looked into. It was a long time ago.”

He praised the Crider family as “good people.”

“Anybody can run into trouble,” he said. At the new plant, he said, “the hiring will be scrutinized.”

Lyons said the plant would employ mechanical engineers and truck drivers, in addition to production line employees.

“We’re going to try to make sure this is a place, between the two companies, where people can have a career, not just a job,” he said.

Deloitte’s Buelow said the size of the local workforce within a 60-mile radius of a proposed Dodge County site was a selling point for locating the plant in eastern Nebraska.

While eastern Nebraska is the first choice, a final decision has not been made. The companies involved need to ensure that there is enough interest from chicken growers — area farmers would raise tens of thousands of chickens in barns on their properties.

And they have to ensure that a proposed site and plant would have the approval of local authorities. Other states also are in the running, Buelow said, though he wouldn’t identify them.

Costco, he said, “wants to be in a location where it is wanted. Costco is super-excited about Nebraska.”

The World-Herald discovered that Crider was connected to the project after the newspaper saw blueprints for the project. Those blueprints indicated that the plant would be built for Lincoln Premium Poultry LLC. A company by that name was incorporated in Nebraska on Feb. 24, according to documents on file with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The company’s principal office location is listed as 1 Plant Ave. in Stillmore, Georgia — also the head office for Crider Foods.

The blueprints were shown to Fremont-area residents this week by a company representative and were seen by The World-Herald in a video captured by a Dodge County resident who attended a meeting.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, barbara.soderlin@owh.com

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More coverage of the proposed chicken plant near Fremont

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