The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

November 18, 2012

Joplin council to consider Blue Buffalo tax abatement

By Debby Woodin
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Joplin City Council will be asked tonight to authorize a tax abatement for the Blue Buffalo Co. pet food plant that is being built in the Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park.

The council also will take up an insurance question posed by the widow of a Joplin police officer.

Blue Buffalo is a 10-year-old company founded by Bill Bishop, who launched the successful SoBe drink line in 1995. He sold that company to PepsiCo in 2001 for $370 million.

The company expects to provide 131 jobs in the pay range of $17 to $18 an hour, or about $36,000 a year, according to city documents. The construction costs of the plant are set at $30 million, and equipment and machinery will cost $59 million.

The Joplin deal calls for the city to grant a full abatement of property taxes for 10 years.

At a groundbreaking ceremony last month, Bishop said Joplin was chosen in part because of the attitude residents showed after the 2011 tornado. Joplin’s location was another factor in the site selection. Company officials have said Joplin is central to routes where their materials are shipped. A planned expansion of a railroad sideyard in the area of Landreth Park by Kansas City Southern Railway Co. is tied to providing transportation to the plant, as is an agreement by the Missouri Department of Transportation to install a new interchange on Interstate 44 to serve the industrial park.

Joplin is not the only entity involved in providing assistance to bring in the plant. The Jasper County Commission last month authorized the issuance of $55 million in industrial revenue development bonds to pay for the acquisition of the plant’s equipment.

The company also could be eligible for economic incentives from the state of Missouri if it meets certain job-creation and investment requirements.

Construction has started, and the plant could be up and running in 2015. It will make up to 30 million pounds of pet food a month.

Insurance issue

The council also will hear from the widow of a Joplin police officer who died eight years ago of duty injuries. She will ask the council to consider adopting a policy that would allow the family of a fallen police officer to have insurance benefits for a year after the officer’s death.

Tracy Nielson Gribben, widow of Tim Nielson, said it would have made a difference for her. Nielson died in 2004 of burns he suffered in an explosion at a Joplin home where he went to check on the well-being of a resident.

After his death, she left her job with the Missouri Department of Social Services in order to stay home with the couple’s daughters to work through the family’s grief. She said she soon realized that she would have to go back to work to get insurance benefits.

“The city took really good care of me and my daughters,” she said. “But having the option of being part of a group insurance plan would have helped. Hopefully no more surviving spouses will face that, but in the event that would happen, I think it would be really good for their peace of mind to have insurance available for that in a time of crisis.”

She said she is not asking that the city pay all the premiums unless there was money available for that.

The city’s finance director, Leslie Jones, said employers are required to make COBRA insurance available for 18 months, though COBRA often is more expensive than employee group benefits. The coverage is provided under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985.

Gribben said another reason she is asking is as part of a project she is doing to obtain her master’s degree.

“I am in the last year of graduate work on my master’s degree in social work at MSU (Missouri State University),” she said. “One of the goals of the class is to advocate for a community policy change. This is something that has been important to me for a really long time.”

Council meeting

THE JOPLIN CITY COUNCIL meets at 6 p.m. today on the fifth floor of City Hall, 602 S. Main St.