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Foster Farms eyes Colorado plant

Livingston-based Foster Farms Inc. is studying the possibility of expanding its chicken-processing operations by opening a plant in Colorado.

Foster Farms officials confirmed newspaper reports in Colorado on Saturday that they were studying the idea, though they stressed that no final decision had been made.

"A final decision is expected within the next two to three months based on availability of sufficient labor force and contract grower interest in raising poultry," Foster Farms President Don Jackson said in a faxed statement to The Bee. "In considering expansion, the company believes there is a market need for fresh, 100 percent natural, locally grown poultry products in Colorado and the surrounding region."

Foster Farms also stressed that establishment of a Colorado plant would be an expansion, not a move from Livingston, where the company has been headquartered for much of its 69 years.

According to the statement, Foster Farms is considering establishing a processing center in Weld, Morgan or Logan counties in the northeast part of Colorado. Jackson said in one newspaper report that the operation might involve all three counties.

The center would include a feed mill and would require contracts with as many as 75 nearby farmers to raise chickens, according to newspaper reports.

About 1,000 workers at plant

Foster Farms would employ about 1,000 people at the plant, infuse the local economy with $300 million in construction costs, and eventually generate annual revenue of about $50 million for workers and contract farmers there, according to reports.

About 2,300 workers are employed at Foster Farms' processing plant in Livingston, making the company one of the largest employers in Merced County.

A story in Saturday's edition of the Journal-Advocate in Sterling, Colo., quoted Jackson as saying he had been in that area three times in the past six weeks to scout potential plant locations.

Foster Farms has scheduled a Monday news conference at a hotel in Sterling, about 120 miles northeast of Denver, and is planning a series of meetings in the next few weeks to gauge interest from local farmers, according to the story.

In a story in the Greeley Trib-une, a local economic development official said northeast Colorado had a good chance of getting a Foster Farms plant.

Both stories also quoted Jackson as saying that by putting a plant in Colorado, Foster Farms could stay faithful in that state to its advertising slogan of selling fresh, local chicken products.

Founded on a farm near Modesto in 1939 by Max and Verda Foster, Foster Farms is the largest poultry producer in California and still is owned and operated by the Foster family.

The company employs more than 10,000 people in California, Oregon, Washington and Alabama. A spinoff company, Foster Farms Dairy, is headquartered in Modesto.

Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at bvandermeer@modbee.com or 578-2331.

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