Provincial money supports growth at Breslau pork producer
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Provincial money supports growth at Breslau pork producer

Kevin Stemmler shows a New York cut of meat that isn’t mechanically tenderized, a process that has caused some controversy since the 2012 XL Foods beef recall. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]

Conestoga Meat Packers to add 100 jobs, boost capacity with assistance of $1.5-million from Southwestern Ontario Development Fund

Almost exactly 12 years after local pork farmers voted to vertically integrate and purchase Conestoga Meat Packers, the Breslau company is entering its largest expansion yet, with an eye toward bringing Canadian food overseas.

Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s minister of economic development, trade and employment, praised Conestoga Meat Packers for its contribution to the local economy while announcing a $1.5-million grant Tuesday.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Eric Hoskins, Ontario’s minister of economic development, trade and employment, praised Conestoga Meat Packers for its contribution to the local economy while announcing a $1.5-million grant Tuesday. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
On Tuesday, the provincial government’s Southwestern Ontario Development Fund announced a $1.5 million grant for the company, adding 100 new jobs and increasing the plant’s capacity by one third. It’s part of a $14-million project to install new cooler space and refrigeration equipment, and increase the company’s sales reach both domestically and abroad.

“As Ontario’s economy continues to go global, I’m proud to say that companies like Conestoga Meat Packers really are leading that change,” said Eric Hoskins, minister of economic development, trade, and employment, at the plant September 17.

Conestoga Meat Packers has come a long way since September 2001, when local farmers purchased a then-small pork processing plant with 35 employees. Since then, the company has experienced three major expansions, added hundreds of jobs, and gone from 1,500 to 15,000 hogs processed per week. Arnold Drung, president of the company, told those in attendance that this fourth expansion would be the company’s largest yet.

“The competition is intense, with major pork exporting countries including the U.S., Brazil, and member countries of the European Union,” said Drung. “As a company, we must continually do things better in order to compete in this environment.

“It was a daring step they took 12 years ago in purchasing the plant,” he continued. “A number of previous ventures like this had failed, but the combination of their commitment to the business, coupled with a dedicated team here at Conestoga, has made this operation a success.”

One of the company’s biggest successes has been its presence in the world market. Conestoga Meat Packers exports to more than 30 countries, with a particularly strong presence in the European Union and Asia. (The company participated in the Ontario Business Mission to China in January).

The 100 new jobs (which join 425 existing jobs) will double the plant’s processing capacity.

“Throughout the plant, it gives us the ability to add a second shift,” said Drung after the announcement. “It’s going to be duplication of a lot of the jobs on the day shift; they will now be done on the second shift as well.”

He added, “We’re looking to do more volume, significantly more than what we currently are, adding about another 30 per cent over time. It just allows us to go out into more markets than we’re currently in.”

Kitchener Centre MPP John Milloy was also on hand at Tuesday’s announcement, and praised the company’s contribution to the local economy.

“In Queen’s Park, when I talk about Waterloo Region, I don’t simply talk about high-tech. High-tech’s a big part of it, but I talk about food processing, which is a huge part of our economy.”

Drung noted that government assistance has been key to Conestoga Meat Packers’ expansion over the past 12 years.

“Early on, the province helped Conestoga to develop the wastewater treatment infrastructure required to operate a larger facility,” he said. “And three years ago, the province provided a portion of funding to increase processing capabilities for export markets, an investment that generated 30 jobs.”

Established in October 2012, the Southern Ontario Development Fund contributes $20 million per year towards businesses in the manufacturing, life sciences, processing, information, technology, tourism and cultural industries that show potential for expanding and creating jobs. Modeled on Eastern Ontario Development Fund, it has so far donated $26 to Southern Ontario companies, and leveraged $234 million in investment from the private sector.

The Conestoga Meat Packers announcement marked Hoskins’ second recent visit to Woolwich for the fund; he announced a $1.3-million pledge to Elmira Pet Products on September 6.

“We look for companies that are in a position to expand, and as a criteria, they need to create new jobs,” said Hoskins after the announcement. “But it’s not just about new jobs, it’s also about retention of existing jobs.

He added, “The great thing about this fund is it works from the ground up. Local communities, local businesses that are strong and looking to expand … We’re supporting local businesses and economies, townships and municipalities, and it’s making a huge difference.”

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