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|Committee approves $50 million for chicken plant deal|
"It's a done deal."
That was the opinion of state Sen. Mike Walsworth, moments after a legislative committee signed off on spending some $50 million in state funds to aid Foster Farms' purchase of a chicken processing plant in Union Parish.
The Legislature's Joint Budget Committee approved appropriating the money from the governor's economic development rapid response fund, or mega fund. Foster Farms, of California, will use $40 million toward the purchase of the Pilgrim's Pride plant in Farmerville while $10 million will be used to upgrade the facility. In all, it's an $80 million transaction.
Walsworth said the Joint Budget Committee unanimously agreed to spend the money but not without a few tense moments.
"There was a bit of a debate in the committee, but it passed without opposition," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe. "I think everyone understands how important this is to our area."
Gov. Bobby Jindal announced in March the state would assist Foster Farms's efforts to buy the Pilgrim's Pride chicken plant. Foster Farms moved to buy the plant after Pilgrim's Pride filed for bankruptcy. As part of its bankruptcy filing, Pilgrim's Pride announced it would shutter its Union Parish operation, costing northeast Louisiana some 1,300 direct jobs. State officials say the Union Parish plant generates another 3,000 jobs indirectly.
Spending mega fund money to aid Foster Farms, though, required a change in state law to allow mega fund dollars to benefit existing businesses.
Last week, lawmakers approved Walsworth's bill to amend state law to allow mega fund money to aid existing businesses in Louisiana. Jindal signed the bill into law Tuesday.
"These changes will not only help save over a thousand jobs in northeast Louisiana, but they will give us additional tools to make sure we continue to grow our economy throughout the entire state," Jindal said.
Walsworth agreed and elaborated.
"The chicken growers, the feed suppliers, even the trucks to deliver the chickens to the plant are local businesses," Walsworth said. "And those are just the direct jobs."
He said chicken feed suppliers account for more than $50 million a year in economic activity in the region. Also, Walsworth said constructing chicken houses and other industry-related infrastructure has contributed more than $250 million to the northeast Louisiana economy.
"If you don't work in the chicken industry, you don't think about it much, but this is as big for our region as something like State Farm," Walsworth said. "This plant impacts a lot of people in a lot of towns."
Pilgrim's Pride recently idled it plant in Farmerville. If a bankruptcy judge okays Foster Farms' purchase of the plant, it will reopen in a matter of weeks, or after the plant is upgraded.