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Residents hear answers to Ridgefield questions

BY CYNTHIA SHEPPARD Approximately 180 interested residents attended the public meeting last Thursday night at the community center that featured a presentation by Ridgefield Farms of South Dakota. Mayor Warren Ludeman opened the council meeting and then turned the program over to Phil Friend, Ridgefield Farms representative, who presented a power point on the background and product of their company. Friend told the assembled crowd, who had enjoyed samples of RFSD product, “We are excited to be here. Ridgefield Farms was formed in 2001 to provide beef to upper end hotels, motels and restaurants. We are a group that is composed of predominantly South Dakotans. Members of our Board of Directors are here tonight to answer any questions you may have about our organization.” Brian Simon, chair of the board, told the audience that he operates a farm/ranch near Seneca. They run a family business that includes a cow-calf operation. He expressed the boards’ desire to promote South Dakota beef to consumers. In his presentation, Friend reported that Ridgefield Farms had previously gotten their product through Washington Beef, who slaughtered 1,000 head of Hereford cattle per week. The company made the move to South Dakota when they weren’t able to get more beef through that company. The board decided to build their own packing plant and fabrication building in Huron, SD, knowing that they would have a central location and a supply of cattle from the state. The construction costs came in higher than expected and construction was halted. The board made the decision to seek a slaughterhouse for the beef at one already established and to build a fabrication plant in another location. Working with Dennis Wiese and Associates as consultants, the board has its eyes on the Flandreau Industrial Park. Friend commented, “Our company has a great customer base and a great board of directors. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we are ready to move ahead with a new chapter. We have been meeting with several entities here in Flandreau since July and are glad for this opportunity to present our company and product to you.” The $750,000 loan that the company is seeking from the city is targeted primarily to bring their offices here and to begin buying cattle in the area. By making the move to South Dakota, they no longer have Washington Beef providing the cattle but will need to buy their own. The company is hoping to see many of the small vacant feedlots in the county up and running again when they know they have a market for their product. RFSD has secured the services of a packing plant in Windom, MN to slaughter 800-1,600 cattle per week. Questions answered The representatives took nearly an hour to answer any questions from the public. Items addressed included the hourly wages, training of workers, risk involved, public utilities needed, amount of truck traffic and timeline for construction. When the plant is up and running, it will employ 150 skilled workers. These workers will be trained by the company and each will work at an individualized station. They will be able to earn incentive pay based on their work effort. There will also be 20-25 managerial positions at the plant. Presenters emphasized that the plant planned in Flandreau is the clean end of the business and that there would be no odor from the cutting and packaging done here. The meat is tracked from farm to the consumer, and since the Mad Cow scare the export trade to Korea and Japan has been closed. With the unique system of complete traceability for the meat, RFSD is hoping that they will again be able to open markets to these countries. The new plant that would be built here will have the latest technology and a 100% tracing ability. The building project would take nine months to construct, with a $17 million building planned with 80,000 square feet. The unique Scanvaeght tracking system will cost $6 million, but the Denmark company who makes this system plans to locate personnel in South Dakota to promote their system and showcase it here for an international audience. It is expected to take $2.5 million for other necessary equipment. RFSD plans to establish a task force including local people to set up the plans for raising the needed capital. The finished product that leaves the plant will be shipped out in vacuum packages by truck. It is estimated that 100 to 120 trucks a week will deliver finished product. The bone left from the meat cutting process will also be sold to customers for other uses. The mayor addressed a question on the needs of the company in the Industrial Park, and Ludeman noted that a study had been done that shows that the water and electricity demands could more than adequately be met by the present city system. The company would qualify as a tax incentive financing district for curb, gutters and other improvements at the site. Representatives reminded listeners that this is the start of the project and that there are many steps that will need to be taken before the building project could begin. When the plant is at full capacity, there will be two eight-hour shifts per day for five-day work weeks. Ridgefield Farms believes they will have a high retention rate with their wage scale. Demand for their product should keep the plant busy 52 weeks of the year. Councilors Chuck Tufty and Chuck Jones addressed the crowd at the close of the meeting, telling them that the council is the voice of the people and they want to know the will of their constituents in this matter. Ludeman entertained a motion and the council voted unanimously to place the question of the loan on the agenda for the October 3rd council meeting.