By SCOTT AUST
Director of Communications
FINNEY COUNTY — Tyson Foods officials had a direct, simple message on Wednesday: We are not leaving.
During a media event at the Heritage Inn, Tyson officials provided an update on current and future plans for the Tyson plant in Holcomb, a portion of which was heavily damaged by fire over the weekend.
Tyson Foods President and CEO Noel White left no ambiguity about the company’s plans for the Holcomb plant, reiterating several times that Tyson is committed to rebuilding and repairing the facility as quickly as possible.
“This plant’s important to us. It’s been a long time, strong performer. The community itself, the workforce we have here is outstanding,” White said.
White said the support for Tyson exhibited by the community has been overwhelming and he thanked everyone for it. White also expressed much gratitude to the first responders who battled the fire for their quick response, and for the fact that no one was injured.
White said the plant sustained heavy damage, but it will be repaired. Tyson is still in the process of a full damage assessment. Structural engineers and electrical engineers are looking at the facility.
“We do plan to rebuild the plant, and want to get it up and running as quickly as possible. It will likely take some time, particularly the electrical portion, but the structural work will start immediately,” White said.
Tyson has announced that it will continue to pay its full time employees for the duration of the temporary closure. White said the decision is an indication of Tyson’s commitment to the community and its team members.
“We’re proud to be part of this community. I want to reassure you we are fully committed to this plant, to this community,” White said. “The state of Kansas and this community have been tremendous partners for many years and we deeply appreciate that.”
Several times throughout the media conference, White emphasized Tyson’s commitment to rebuilding.
“I just want to make sure that there is a clear understanding that we are fully committed to this community. We do want to get back up and running as quickly as possible. We are deeply appreciative for your support. Thank you very much,” he said.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly thanked everyone for the quick action and response to the fire, and said the emergency responders did an exemplary job in the face of a very difficult and dangerous situation. She said the fact that no one was injured and all employees safely evacuated speaks volumes about Tyson’s emphasis on workforce safety.
“Now the focus turns to rebuild the plant that’s an important economic driver in Finney County and beyond. Tyson is to be commended for its pledge to continue paying its workers affected by the temporary closure of the plant. It’s very good to hear you intend to repair the damage and reopen. It’s very reassuring to know,” Kelly said.
Kelly said the temporary closure does present some serious challenges, and the state is mindful of the economic implications for cattle producers both for beef prices and packing capacity, transportation providers and other various businesses. Kelly said her administration stands ready to help as needed, and she expects the legislature is also ready to assist.
“We are ready to help in any way that we can,” Kelly said.
Steve Stouffer, Tyson Foods Group President of the Fresh Meats division, who has been with the company 37 years and is very familiar with the area, said one of the things that has stood out for him is the attitude is one of “we’re all in this together.”
“It’s times like this that we learn it’s about being a community, right?” he said. “We’ve got a whole basket full of lemons right now but there’s gonna be lemonade made out of this thing. We’re gonna make it strong, we’re gonna make it better.”
Stouffer said it’s been nice to see the community’s unified front in support of Tyson and that there are a whole lot of thanks that need to be shared.
“As catastrophic as this was, it could have been so much worse,” he said.
Stouffer thanked the Tyson team for reacting quickly and evacuating the plant, the Garden City Fire Department for its quick response, the Holcomb Fire Department, Finney County Sheriff’s Department, the Garden City School District, and many other businesses and organizations in the community.
Stouffer said the important thing to understand about the recovery effort is that the bulk of the facility is in good shape, and Tyson will repair and rebuild.
“Structurally, we have a small percentage of the square footage that’s damaged. Unfortunately, it’s some pretty critical stuff as far as the electrical and hydraulics. So it’s gonna be awhile. We’re not talking weeks, we’re talking probably a matter of months,” he said.
There is not a specific timeline available right now for when the plant will become fully operational again, Stouffer said. Parts of the plant could get up and running fairly quickly but as a whole it’s going to take some time to get back to normalized operation.
Stouffer again praised the community effort in response to the fire.
“It’s interesting to me, a lot of times we see communities out there who long for what was. And here we see a community in Garden City that envisions what can be,” he said. “I can tell you Tony Lang and his team are very proud of what we’re part of here. I just want you to know that we are very proud to be part of this. Thank you very much for all you’ve done for us.”
“I’m here to tell you, we’re not leaving,” he said, adding that Tyson has a commitment to its suppliers, customers and the community that it takes seriously.
“We’re four days into this now and we’ve already got a lot of plans in place. Is it perfect? No. But I tell you what, we have the ability to limit the magnitude of the impact, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.