Bill Bishop was looking for a place in the Midwest to build an $85 million pet-food manufacturing plant and distribution center that would employ up to 150 people.
After looking at sites in several states, his company decided to go with Joplin, in part because of the way the city responded to the May 22, 2011, tornado.
It was Joplin’s attitude that impressed Bishop.
“We value the attitude in Joplin,” he said Tuesday morning during a groundbreaking ceremony for the plant in the Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park. “There was no whining after the tornado. It was get off your a-- and get back to work. We respect that. You are the kind of people we want to work with.”
For Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, it’s an example of watching for opportunities and taking advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves.
“A quick outreach first with our assets showed that Joplin was the right location for this plant,” he said, crediting Tom Crook, director of operations and sales with NEI Industrial Services, of Joplin, with making that first outreach.
Crook, in a telephone interview Tuesday, said Bishop’s company, The Blue Buffalo Co., of Wilton, Conn., approached NEI in late February of this year about the construction of a plant.
“In the course of that discussion, they told us they wanted to build the plant in either Kansas, Oklahoma, Minnesota or Missouri,” he said. “They did not want to take the time to do a site survey, which can easily take 12 months. They were (eager) to get started on designing the plant and getting it constructed.”
NEI Industrial Services operates in the Crossroads park. An employee suggested that the property at the northeast corner of Prigmore Road and East 32nd Street (Route FF) would be a good spot for the plant.
“We talked with O’Brian and the Joplin Industrial Development Authority, and one thing led to another,” Crook said. “O’Brian put together an extremely competitive package. They (Blue Buffalo) asked me for a recommendation. I told them: ‘I know I’m biased, but I think Joplin is your very best opportunity.”’
The company had looked at Nashville, Tenn., but the ingredients for the product would have to be shipped farther from their sources and that would cost more.
“Joplin is in the traffic lanes for their ingredients,” Crook said.
Crook said the attitude in Joplin was a factor.
“We talked about that,” he said. “They were very impressed with what Joplin did after the tornado. They appreciated the fact that Joplin was more independent about helping itself. It was that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ approach that they were very taken with. There’s no doubt about it. It was a factor in their decision.”
Not only would NEI Industrial Services design the 425,000-square-foot plant for The Blue Buffalo Co., it would find a site for its construction.
“Everybody involved in this pulled in one direction to make this happen, including the governor’s office,” said Crook.
Gov. Jay Nixon took part in the groundbreaking.
“Just as we saw this summer with Coca-Cola and Schaeffler Group USA, Joplin continues to see exciting economic developments, with another national brand like Blue Buffalo Company investing in this community,” Nixon said. “This is more evidence that Missouri’s stable and positive business climate is helping to move our economy forward.”
As part of that orchestrated effort, the Jasper County Commission on Tuesday approved the issuance of $55 million in industrial revenue development bonds to pay for the acquisition of manufacturing equipment for the plant. The company, as part of the deal, will pay an average wage equal to or greater than the current average county wage. O’Brian said that could be a wage of $17 to $18 an hour.
Blue Buffalo Company could be eligible for a strategic economic incentive package from the state of Missouri if it meets the strict job creation and investment criteria of each program.
Bishop said construction of the Heartland Pet Foods Manufacturing plant, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Blue Buffalo Co., will begin immediately. The plan calls for full production — 30 million pounds of pet food a month — to begin in 2015.
“It will be the most efficient and safest pet-food plant in America,” Bishop said.
The company now has 12 manufacturing partners. Six of them produce dry food, two produce wet food, and four produce treats. Bishop said the company will keep using its partners, but that the new plant “will become our main production plant.”
The company incorporated 10 years ago and went national in 2006. Bishop was a founder of the SoBe (South Beach) Beverage Co. in 1995. That company was purchased by Pepsico in 2001 for a reported $370 million in cash.
A factor in the company’s decision to build the plant in Joplin was a promise by the Missouri Department of Transportation to construct a new interchange on Interstate 44 to serve the Crossroads park. It is estimated 85 trucks will visit the plant daily.
THE BLUE BUFFALO CO., according to its website, is the nation’s leading natural pet-food company, and provides a complete line of healthy and holistic foods and treats for dogs and cats. The company’s products are sold nationwide in pet specialty stores.