Column: Questions, including location, remain on plant

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 23, 2003

We have all heard the statement that knowledge is power. By definition, if someone has all the knowledge and the people of Albert Lea don’t have it, then that someone has all the power.

What am I driving at? Pigs! We in Albert Lea are being asked to welcome a new industry based on the killing and processing of pigs.

Many of us think this will be great, in theory, but there are a lot of things we probably need to know. For example, who are they; what are their finances; are they building two plants or one; will there be a corporate office at our pig plant; what is their business model; do we believe it will be successful or will we be left sitting with a white elephant in our midst; if so, who might come in to snap it up in a couple of years …?

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Before we, as a city, commit $5.5 million to this company, we should think about both the good and the bad that might come out of this. The good would be as many as 300 corporate office employees, plant jobs for perhaps 1,700 people, and $100 million of payroll and other purchases that would spin throughout our community three times. That’s a lot of money but why only three times? OK, maybe four times, but a great deal of this money will probably be wired out of the country and not spent here. The payroll money that does stay will purchase homes, cars, clothes, hamburgers and everything else people buy. It can only be good for business.

We should also consider the negatives such as employee turnover, crime, smell, traffic congestion, challenges to the school system, availability of low-cost housing and a host of other potential problems. If you know someone in Guyman, Worthington, St. James, Austin or a host of other towns that have plants like this, just give them a call and ask them what we appear to be biting off with this one. There’s no free lunch. It seems that every good thing comes with a cost. We need to know that the expense is justified. One thing you can be certain of: It will change our town. The question to be answered is, will it make Albert Lea a better or a worse town in which to live?

In addition to all of the other questions left unanswered, the people of Albert Lea might also like to know where this plant will be sited. Which of us might be living or working in the shadow of this new plant? In last Wednesday’s local paper we learned that the city has secured the land and that this was done a month ago. This means that there is no longer any need for secrecy because there is no danger that public knowledge would drive up the price of the land. There is, however, a need for people to know what the city is planning here.

We do have a clue as to where it is, however. It will not be in the Habben Industrial park because that area is not in the southwest quadrant of the city. The southwest quarter would be somewhere west of the Jobs, Inc. industrial park. Keeping in mind that the plant needs to be within the city limits and the planning and zoning office has apparently not rezoned any agricultural land and brought it into the city recently, this leaves very few options on the south edge of town. Should those in Dawn Acres prepare to welcome their new neighbor?

Isn’t it about time for our leaders to be a little more up front about things like this? Even the city council doesn’t know where this plant will likely be. From my recent talk with our mayor, I don’t believe she even knows and she is the co-negotiator of this package.

Tony Trow is an Albert Lea resident and president of Destination: Albert Lea. His column appears Mondays.