DENISON, Iowa -- Ana Nieto slaughtered cattle for six years at Tyson Fresh Meats in Denison. The money she made funded her dream, a dress shop she opened downtown in 2006.
"Tyson dinero," she said, using the Spanish term for money while pointing to walls, racks and shelves bursting with dresses for proms, baptisms, first communions, quinceaneras (15th birthday celebrations) and weddings.
Nieto is the one-woman wonder, the only employee behind Creaciones y Detalles on Main Street. "Dresses and alterations," she said while showing off three sewing machines tucked in the back of the store.
Nieto learned on Thursday her former workplace may close as early as 2013, putting 400 employees -- and many of her customers -- out of work.
Tyson officials announced Thursday that a multimillion-dollar expansion at the company's Dakota City plant will result in the addition of 200 jobs in Dakota City. The project will enable the Dakota City plant to handle more cattle for production.
The progress comes at the possible expense of the Tyson plant in Denison, a supplemental supplier of beef carcasses.
"Denison could break," Nieto said, this time in English.
As a worried Nieto shared news with family on her phone, leaders in Denison placed calls to state lawmakers and Tyson's front office. Don Luensmann, executive director for the Chamber & Development Council of Crawford County, said his group's primary goal involved finding Tyson a second use for the plant west of Denison on U.S. Highway 30.
"Maybe there's a different product line Tyson can produce there," said Luensmann. "We'll also be contacting our local legislators to see if we can find another use for the plant. We may not do beef kill here any more, and that's OK. We've been killing beef here for 50 years. No one promised us it would last that long."
Sentimental ties to Tyson Fresh Meats mean job cuts cut deeper in Denison, which used "The Meat Empire" marketing slogan for decades. This is where IBP Inc., Tyson's predecessor, originated. The company has slaughtered cattle here since 1961.
Tyson Fresh Meats is Crawford County's second-largest employer, trailing only Farmland Foods, whose 1,300-plus workers in Denison process in excess of 9,000 hogs per day.
Floyd Boger of Denison worked at IBP from 1968 to 1969. He lauded IBP for allowing him the chance to earn a second income. The job, at that time, allowed him to stay on his farm.
A drought in 1969 forced him from the farm permanently. He found work at Farmland Foods and remained there until his employers presented him with a pink slip during an economic downtown.
Blessing in disguise, Boger called it.
"I was out of work for 12 weeks and then I found a job as a custodian at the Crawford County Courthouse. I worked there for 20 years," he said. For the past 16 years, he's worked part time for the county's secondary roads department.
Employees at Tyson, Boger said, may land on their feet as well. He's certain Denison will roll with the punches.
"Denison's a progressive town. People here won't stand still," he said. "It'll hurt in the short term, but we'll come back."
Luensmann said the 400 jobs represent 5 percent of the county's 9,000-member workforce. A shuttered plant may represent an opportunity for one of three remaining meat production firms in town.
"The plant is a valuable building," said Kevin Flanagan, city manager. "It's a great opportunity for someone."
Flanagan and Luensmann praised Tyson officials for providing a generous time line in addressing a possible closure. Luensmann spoke with Denison-Schleswig Schools Superintendent Mike Pardun on Thursday, noting they'll have to address the needs of 130 students who have a parent or two working for Tyson.
"We do appreciate the lead time in working to find a solution," Luensmann said.
Back at the dress shop, Nieto helped Johanna Blum of nearby Manilla, Iowa, into a dress. Blum, a sophomore at IKM-Manning High School, lost her dress when a fire destroyed her home on Saturday.
Shonda Blum reacted to the Tyson news as her daughter mulled style and color options. Prom, she said, is still two months away. She and her daughter have lead time.
Somehow, 2013 seemed closer at hand.
"Denison could lose stores. Places like this might be gone if Tyson closes," Shonda Blum said. "Where will the people go?"
Nieto explained she didn't want to see Denison break. Her goal is to serve customers like the Blums, working in the dream shop her hard-earned "dinero" from an old beef plant stitched together.