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Hog Processing in Full Swing at Tai Shin Foods

by 5m Editor
4 June 2008, at 10:28am

US - After a long wait, Tai Shin Foods is open, processing about 600 hogs a week and having 70 employees.

Tai Shin Foods, owned by James Hsu and his father, Kin Po Hsu, purchased the plant from Denver Meat Packers in Colorado in November 2000 after the building had been vacant for six or seven years, reports the Herald-Free Press.

Tai Shin started its search for a processing facility in the Midwest through the Missouri Department of Agriculture's office in Taiwan. The International Marketing Program of the Missouri Department of Agriculture helped Tai Shin find the plant and served as a liaison between Tai Shin Foods and Denver Meat Packers.

Morris Westfall and Ken Legan, who were the state senator and state representative for Polk County in 2000, organized a meeting between the Hsu family and Pleasant Hope officials to discuss the possibility of the pork plant.

After two weeks of training, the first hogs were processed the week of Feb. 25, with just 35 hogs processed the entire week. Production now stands at about 600 hogs per week, but that is expected to increase significantly later this summer when the company plans to begin processing 4,800 antibiotic-free hogs per week - 1,600 a day for three days. The processed product will be destined for high-end restaurants on the East Coast, Mowery said. The plant has the capacity to process 2,000 hogs per day.

"We know this is coming on, and 150 to 200 people is what it's going to take to do that," said Marcia Griffin, regional manager for Penmac, which is providing staffing and human resources services for the plant.

Current processing includes contract kills, where a supplier brings in hogs that are processed and then given back to the supplier for distribution. Tai Shin also is buying hogs to process and export to markets such as Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Originally, the company planned to export all of its product to Japan, but that has been slowed by a more-complicated process for exporting to Japan.

Recruitment of employees with knife skills and experience with processing cattle or hogs is crucial to making the plant run smoothly.

When Tyson closed a meat packing plant in Emporia, Kan., Penmac held a job fair to recruit employees from that plant for supervisory positions at Tai Shin.

"I needed people that had experience," Griffin said. "With hogs and beef, there's not much difference other than size. Most have had knife or meat processing skills. We have been specifically looking for people with those skills."

Griffin said the anticipated closing of the Willowbrook poultry facility in Springfield will provide an employee pool when production does increase at Tai Shin.

Production jobs start at $8 per hour, Griffin said, with a 50-cent per hour attendance bonus for each week of perfect attendance. Workers also are eligible for raises at 30, 60 and 90 days, at which time they are eligible for full benefits, including health insurance and holiday pay. A 401(k) retirement plan is available from the day the employee starts work.

Hog production once was big business in Polk County. According to the Missouri Agricultural Statistics Service Web site, Polk County's hog numbers peaked in 1900 with 32,920, slowing dropping off each decade to 19,500 by 1960 but rebounding to 30,300 in 1970. Since then, numbers have continued to drop, from 10,900 in 1992 to 6,036 in 2002, the most recent available data.

Because of the low hog numbers in Polk County and southwest Missouri, many of the hogs purchased by Tai Shin are coming from other states. That could change as local producers see they have a place to sell their hogs locally.

While direct economic impact can be difficult to measure, Tai Shin has provided jobs for residents of Polk and surrounding counties. Payroll from November 2007 through May 18, 2008, totals $312,949. Additionally, whenever possible, Tai Shin buys supplies and pays for services through local vendors.

Some businesses in Pleasant Hope also have seen an upswing in business since the facility opened.

Jerry Stevens, owner of Polk County Discount grocery store, said sales have increased 10 to 12 percent and at least part of that can be attributed to the plant's opening.

"Several of the employees who work there shop with me," he said. "I'm just tickled to death it's up and going after eight years."

Stevens is upbeat about Pleasant Hope's future, having recently built a mini mall next to the grocery store on Mo. 215 at the east edge of town. In the mini mall, he opened a Laundromat last month and a snack shop opened Monday, serving all-beef hot dogs, soft-serve ice cream and other snack foods.

View the Herald-Free Press story by clicking here.

5m Editor