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Lost Food Processing Jobs To Return To Northwest Iowa

Katie Peikes/IPR file
The Tyson plant in Cherokee Iowa, which closed in 2014.

Four years ago, a major northwest Iowa food processing company closed. The site will soon reopen under a new company that plans to bring lost jobs back to the area.
Iowa Food Group plans to process and package proteins like beef, pork and chicken. The company says it will start off with 50 to 100 employees and plans to grow to over 400.

“This plant was a wonderful opportunity in the heart of agriculture,” said Iowa Food Group’s Mack Zimmerman. “…The location of this plant made just perfect sense to us.”

They closed on the deal to purchase the facility about a week ago. According to Cherokee County Assessor’s Office, the site was purchased for about $2.3 million.

In an email, Tyson Foods said it was under contract to lease the facility until 2020. Two years ago, it tried to buy out of its lease, but failed, so it was pleased when the opportunity came up for new ownership that could move in and bring job opportunities. 

“The sale of the plant is a win for everyone involved, especially the community,” Tyson said.

The 16 counties that make up northwest Iowa hold more than 11,800 jobs related to food manufacturing and processing, according to data from Iowa Workforce Development. Those jobs make up about 21 percent of jobs in the industry around the state.

When Tyson Foods – Cherokee County’s largest employer – closed its Cherokee location in 2014, the county lost about 450 jobs. Bill Anderson, the executive director of Cherokee Area Economic Development, said Iowa Food Group will fill a void.

“You had a number of those folks that maybe remained in the county, living in the county but maybe found jobs outside of the county. Some moved,” Anderson said. “What this does is hopefully gives that opportunity for folks that may be leaving the county today, to find that opportunity here.”

As of Thursday, 75 people have already applied for jobs with Iowa Food Group, Anderson said. Some of the applicants used to work at the Tyson plant.

“For folks that spent 25, 30, 40 years at that plant, this is a great day for this to be happening,” Anderson said.

Cherokee County residents voted last week on a $12 million bond for Cherokee Community Schools to make structural improvements and an expansion to its middle school to house students in fourth grade and under. Debbie Kelley, who owns a farm in the county, said she hopes the recent bond and Iowa Food Group’s announcement will entice more people to move to the area.

Kelley also has two daughters who she would like to see come back to Cherokee after they finish college, and she says the new jobs could help a lot.

“I don’t mind if they go out and work outside, but I want them to circle back to the family farm,” Kelley said. “That’s what my husband did and that’s why we moved back onto the family farm he was born and raised on.”

Iowa Food Group plans to reopen the plant in January 2019.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.