CHEROKEE, Iowa -- The former Tyson Foods meat plant in Cherokee, idle since 2014, has sprung back to life with a new owner and product line.
The Iowa Food Group plant, which employed 35 people, plans to begin production Monday, said Mack Zimmerman, one of the partners of the investor group formed last year.
"That's going to continue to grow over the next couple of month," Zimmerman said of the workforce. "We should be at 100 pretty quick this year."
Most of the Iowa Food Group leaders, which includes acting CEO Jeremy Robinson, come from Texas. The exception is director of sales Chad Vander Linden, a Muscatine, Iowa, native. The partners are veterans of the meat processing industry.
"We were looking for a plant like this -- this fit the bill," Zimmerman said. Most of the company's management has relocated to Cherokee or already lived there.
Iowa Food Group was able to negotiate "a really good deal that worked for everybody," Zimmerman said. The group paid $2.35 million for the multi-building plant in September, according to sale records.
The oldest buildings at the plant dates to 1965, the year Wilson Foods opened as a pork and beef slaughter and fabrication plant.
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IBP (which later merged with Tyson) purchased the plant in 1997 and operated it as a deli foods plant. The community was caught off guard in July 2014 when Tyson announced it was closing the plant due to its age. At the time of the closure, Tyson was Cherokee's second-largest employer with around 400 workers.
Iowa Food Group is not currently using all of the roughly 255,000-square-foot complex. Zimmerman said the company has a conservative approach of expanding in phases, depending on the volume of orders they receive.
Workers at the plant will take beef, chicken, pork and lamb (slaughtered elsewhere) and process it for retail or food service: slicing, dicing, marinating and packaging.
And the plant's former owner will still contribute to its operations. Zimmerman said Tyson will serve as a meat provider, along with other sources.
Workers lined up when Iowa Food Group started hiring. Hundreds of applications were turned in for the three dozen jobs, including many former Tyson workers.
Bill Anderson, executive director of Cherokee Area Economic Development, said he's thrilled to have the meat plant back up and running.
"I think it definitely is a shot in the arm to the city and the county," Anderson said. "We lost residents because of the (Tyson) plant closing."
Cherokee County's unemployment rate, pegged in December at 2.1 percent, means that new residents -- like the Iowa Food Group management team -- may move to Cherokee as the plant takes on new employees. Anderson said it could be a "turning point" for the community.
Correction: An earlier version of this story in print and online contained an error in Mack Zimmerman's name.
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