Ground breaks on major dairy plant in Michigan

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

The large-scale plant is likely to transform its host St. Johns, a small central Michigan town. Pic: ©GettyImages/pia_ch
The large-scale plant is likely to transform its host St. Johns, a small central Michigan town. Pic: ©GettyImages/pia_ch

Related tags facility Cheese Whey Factory Construction

After announcing plans over the summer for a large-scale cheese and whey processing plant in St. Johns, Mich., construction has officially broken ground on the facility this month.

At the time of the joint announcement by the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), Glanbia Nutritionals and Select Milk Producers, the main cheese complex was expected to cost about $470m and be completed in late 2020.

But it’s estimated to be a $555m total project with the adjacent $85m Proliant Dairy Ingredients facility also included in the plans to produce the whey products. Glanbia will reportedly own 50% of the total plant, with DFA and Select splitting the other 50%.

It will be able to process 8 million pounds of milk per day into a variety of about 300 million pounds of cheese and whey products per year for domestic and international markets. The team expects to employ 250 full-time workers at the plant, though the hiring process likely won’t begin for another year.

But because it will have the capacity to process one-quarter of the total milk produced in the entire state every year, it will potentially generate many more local domino effect jobs. It could end up adding several hundred related business and retail positions in the St. Johns area.

St. Johns was chosen over other regions in Michigan because the site met key selection criteria. It’s close to milk supply, strong transport links, a positive business environment and labor availability.

Michigan is only the fifth highest milk producing state, with production just around 11.2 bn pounds. California and Wisconsin always take the top two spots, with New York, Idaho, Michigan and Texas fluctuating in the following ranks.

The large-scale plant is likely to transform the small central Michigan town, which has a population of less than 8,000, by attracting educated workers to the city. This can open up new real estate, retail and entertainment opportunities for the area. But with a two-year construction timeline, most of this change won’t be seen until 2020 and beyond.

Greg Wickham, CFO at DFA, said “The construction of this plant in St. Johns will not only address a growing industry need for Michigan plant capacity, but it also adds value and supports our local dairy farm families in this area.”

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