Glen Taylor to build new pork processing plant in Windom

Taylor and a partner plan to raise, slaughter and market premium pork in Minnesota.

By Tom Meersman (http://www.startribune.com/tom·meersman/10645426/) Star Tribune

FEBRUARY 3, 2016 – 2:58PM

Minnesota businessman Glen Taylor, owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, has signed a deal to purchase the former PM Beef plant in Windom for an undisclosed sum, and plans to invest $20 million to $25 million with a partner to convert it to a state-of-the-art pork processing facility.

More than 260 workers lost their jobs when the beef plant in southwestern Minnesota shut down production last September. It closed its doors for good on Dec. 11. Its former president cited deteriorating industry conditions and rising cattle prices as the reason for the closure. The plant had run for decades – owned by PM Beef Holdings since the early 1990s and before that by Caldwell Packing.

Taylor grew up on a farm in Comfrey, just northeast of Windom, and said in an interview that returning jobs to the area is a big part of his interest in the project. ”We are absolutely hopeful that we can go back and hire a number of the former [PM Beef] employees, because even though they did a different product, they know what it’s like to work in that kind of facility,” said Taylor, who owns a variety of businesses from egg farms to printing companies and the Star Tribune.

Taylor said he has also talked with a construction contractor and hopes that local employees can be hired even before the plant reopens, during its overhaul and conversion to pork processing.

Taylor will partner with Greg Strobel, a large hog producer in Pemberton, who said in an interview that refurbishing the plant will likely take about nine months, and the name of the company will be Prime Pork. Taylor has been raising hogs for several years with a partner in Mapleton, Strobel said.

“Our goal is to focus on taste and quality, so that we bring a premium product to market and not just an ordinary hog,” Strobel said. “We don’t have volume for the Wal-Marts of the world, and quite frankly we don’t want to compete against [large pork processors] JBS and Tyson.”

Strobel said Prime Pork expects to hire 300 to 350 workers initially, and at full production in Windom will process about 1.5 million hogs annually. The pork will come from the two main partners, he said, although the company may do business with other hog producers in southern Minnesota as it grows.

All of that is likely to be music to the ears of Windom residents, who lost their second largest employer when PM Beef Holdings shut down production. Its top employer is Toro Co., which has 700 to 800 workers at a plant that makes lawn mowers and snowblowers. Windom is about 160 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

The pork market has not been profitable lately, but Taylor expects Prime Pork could succeed because it will do things differently in terms of genetics, animal health care, feed and other components of the business. The public is paying closer attention to food, he said, and his new company wants to respond to that when it sells the pork.

”We want to say that we’ve watched the meat from birth to your store and we can guarantee that what you’re getting meets certain criteria because it’s all been under the handling of just a few families,” he said.

Strobel said he expects the market will mainly be restaurants and upscale groceries, potentially at stores like Lunds & Byerlys, Kowalski’s and other chains that have already established their own reputations for quality. He does not expect the pork to be sold under its own label, at least initially.

Although known for his investments in professional basketball and the printing industry, Taylor grew up on a farm and also owns a number of ag business, including Iowa-based Rembrandt Foods, the nation’s third-largest egg producer with two farms in Iowa and one in Renville, Minn.