August 13, 2010

Leprino jobs were long time coming, but worth the wait

The saga of Leprino Foods Co.’s Greeley mozzarella factory has been a long one. The Business Report first mentioned the remote chance of a possibility of a potential deal that would bring the Denver-based cheesemaker to town in December 2007.

We followed the development of the negotiations through the first half of 2008, first from the perspective of the local dairies that stood to gain a local buyer for up to 5 million pounds of milk per day, then from the economic impact of up to 400 new, high-paying jobs.

We watched as the Greeley City Council approved a tax-increment financing district for the area around the Great Western Sugar factory in January, and for good measure threw in a water incentive that would allow Leprino to pay significantly less by buying rights directly from the city’s water bank. That action tipped the scales in the city’s favor over a competing site in Kansas, but a final decision was not announced until June.

When it came, Greeley became the site of the company’s 10th production facility, the second in Northern Colorado after Fort Morgan. Economic developers and dairymen rejoiced, but the heavy lifting was just about to begin.

In January 2009, a full year after council approved the incentives, the old sugar factory was finally razed, and to casual observers, that’s where the project came to a screeching halt. With the economy melting down, milk prices plummeting and one of the largest dairies in the region declaring bankruptcy, the once-rosy scenarios of increased demand for milk and local factory workers turned gray. Some even predicted the end of the line for the planned plant.

As the year dragged on with no new construction apparent, concern grew. But the delay was caused by unanticipated issues with the site, not with any change in business plans. City officials worked with the company to keep the project moving forward.

Today the very model of a modern mozzarella maker is taking shape on the site. About 200 construction workers have temporary jobs, and 300 permanent personnel will be hired for the first-phase opening next year.

Leprino, along with other activity at meatpacker JBS and other Weld County employers, is poised to bring more than 1,000 jobs to the region, helping lead Northern Colorado out of the Great Recession.

This is one more time when a little patience, and the right incentives, has paid off.

The saga of Leprino Foods Co.’s Greeley mozzarella factory has been a long one. The Business Report first mentioned the remote chance of a possibility of a potential deal that would bring the Denver-based cheesemaker to town in December 2007.

We followed the development of the negotiations through the first half of 2008, first from the perspective of the local dairies that stood to gain a local buyer for up to 5 million pounds of milk per day, then from the economic impact of up to 400 new, high-paying jobs.

We watched as the Greeley City Council approved a tax-increment financing district…

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