When Champion Petfoods first visited here in December of 2013, we knew they were searching for the perfect location and had a pretty good idea of what they needed. An agricultural setting with all the transportation amities and full utility service in a business friendly community. With the help of the LEAD Board of Directors I set out to find the best location for them. We settled on the site at Auburn. At the point of that first visit they had looked at 22 sites in eight states. I picked up the three decision makers at the Nashville Airport on a foggy, rainy December morning and drove up I-65 in the rain. We came around Natcher Parkway and headed west on US 68. The rain had let up when we pulled off the road at the farm entrance to the site. We walked up toward the railroad and I could see the three of them smiling at each other…a good sign.
We came on to Russellville and met with our Board representatives at the Russellville Logan County Airport to discuss the project. Our folks were able to answer all of their questions and then some. We took them to meet with the Todd county team who was hosting them that afternoon.
Fast forward to spring of 2014 when we decided the project was far enough along to justify a due diligence trip to Morinville, Alberta to see their Canada operations. The visit did not disappoint. Our host for the kitchen tour was a young lady with a PhD in Food Science, more than we expected, reflecting the quality and expertise of the Champion team.
By the ground breaking most of the thousand and one details had been worked out and we enjoyed one of the most publicized and creative ground breaking in this area’s history. This is our first experience with a multi-national consumer products company that does not shirk from publicity. Quite a change from our normally shy manufacturers who prefer a low profile.
Champion told us at the July 2014 ground breaking that they planned to be in production by January 4, 2016. They hired Gray Construction from Glasgow and Lexington to design-build the kitchen. They announced it at $85 million and 147 employees.
I think everyone in Logan County and all of the commuters on US 68 enjoyed watching the site grading and the new building come out of the ground. A truly exciting project. Champion established a temporary office in downtown Russellville and began hiring and preparing for the start of production.
January 2016 came and they began production on time to everyone’s amazement. The numbers are up to $122 million, 150 employees and growing, and 371,000 square feet. Every economic development professional hopes for a project like Champion Petfoods. We are very fortunate that they came our way and chose Auburn, Logan County, Ky.