HOLCOMB, Kan. (KSNW) – A fire partly destroyed the Tyson Foods beef plant near Holcomb last week, but the company says it will rebuild.
Plant spokeswoman Worth Sparkman released a statement Monday morning explaining the fire, which burned for nearly 24 hours, has disabled the plant indefinitely. There is not a clear indication for when rebuilding could begin.
The statement said officials are still assessing the damage and don’t have anything final to announce, but some tell KSN the damage “was considerable.”
The fire started around 8:30 Friday night, Garden City fire officials said. They had it under control at 11 a.m. the next day and extinguished at 8 Saturday night.
Fire crews say the cause is still unknown.
Tyson and fire officials commend plant management and successful evacuation procedures. There were no injuries reported out of nearly 1,200 employees present.
In the statement, Tyson Fresh Meats group president Steve Stouffer said the company will give weekly pay to “full-time, active team members” until production resumes.
“This is a difficult time for our team members and their families, and we want to ensure they’re taken care of,” Stouffer said.
Some employees could spend the off time helping with clean-up and “other projects,” according to the statement.
As for part-time employees, which Tyson says consists of “a small percentage” of the plant, they will not be getting guaranteed weekly pay. The company says there will be opportunities for work in the near future but did not provide details.
Some in the community close the plant are pleading for donations to keep those part-time employees afloat.
Deanna Clark is a Horace Good Middle School teacher. In 2018, she and other teachers activated the school’s Hawk Pantry, a program meant to provide free, healthy snacks to students.
“We worry about those families that have more than one parent that works for Tyson,” Clark said. “If it’s a pay cut [they are getting, then], they are going to need extra help.”
Hawk Pantry is fundraising to buy groceries for any students whose families are affected. United Way and several businesses are working on similar initiatives.
Officials stated their intention to rebuild the plant in the same location, a note of good news to Finney County Economic Development Corporation President Lona DuVall.
“From the public policy side, we just want to be available to provide whatever support [Tyson needs] from us as they go into the rebuilding process,” DuVall said.
Stouffer mentioned in the statement that Tyson has plans to maintain operations while the Holcomb plant is shut down.
“We’re taking steps to move production to alternative sites,” Stouffer said. “Tyson Foods has built in some redundancy to handle situations like these, and we will use other plants within our network to help keep our supply chain full.”
The Tyson Fresh Meats beef plant handles more than 5,000 head of cattle per day, amounting to nearly 6 percent of beef production in the United States. KSN Agriculture Analyst John Jenkinson says beef prices were trading much lower Monday when after news the plant is shut down.
“This particular plant is such an important piece of the beef industry in the United States,” Jenkinson said. “It was the second largest beef plant in the United States, so this is a highly critical facility.”
Jenkinson said it would take months to get the plant to full operation.
Tyson Foods operates six plants in Kansas, employing more than 5,600 people. In the company’s fiscal year 2018, it paid $269 million in wages within Kansas and estimated its total economic impact in the state to be more than $2.4 billion, according to Tyson’s statement.
Being out-of-operation could have negative implications in several parts of the region. The plant is located in Finney County, where most if its employees live, but several live in nearby Kearny County, as well.
Because of its proximity to the Kearny County Hospital, most health services required at the plant or its employees are provided in the neighboring county.
Ralph Goodnight, economic development director for Kearny County, says even with the compensation while the plant is down, it’s only a matter of time before the deficit in production begins to affect several parts of life.
“It will have a huge domino effect,” Goodnight said. “These folks will spend money. Some of them are residents in our county. Some of them come for their health care. Some of them have their kids educated in our school district.”
Goodnight said the plant shutdown could trickle down to community feed yards and cattle producers, many of whom send their cattle to the plant. If the feed yards have no where to send their cattle, those employees will have an uncertain fate, themselves.
Jenkinson said the closure will shift where those cattle go to be processed, but the logistics will take time to arrange.
Soon after the fire, Gov. Laura Kelly, D-Kansas, sent Commerce Secretary David Toland and Agriculture Secretary Mike Beam to Garden City. Kelly offered assistance to both Tyson and its employees.
Beam and Toland met with Tyson officials and local leaders Saturday. Today, Toland’s deputy secretary emphasized that commitment to assistance.
“Governor Kelly, Secretary Toland and Secretary Beam pledged that whatever the state can do to assist in the renovation and quickly re-employing everybody at full-time employment, the state’s ready to do,” Patty Clark said.
On Saturday, Kelly said the commerce department’s rapid response workforce development program if employees go without pay. The program assists with large-scale unemployment.