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Demand for poultry leads to expansion of local plants
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A paving crew works at the intersection of Thompson Bridge Road and Hubert Stephens Road Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, building a new entrance into Fieldale Farms. The plant is expanding its Murrayville processing plant, which could bring at least another 100 jobs by early spring 2019. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County’s longtime poultry industry isn’t slowing down in the wake of widespread growth in other business sectors.

“Conditions have been good and steady,” Georgia Poultry Federation President Mike Giles said.

Fieldale Farms is expanding its Murrayville poultry processing plant, a move that could bring at least another 100 jobs by early spring 2019.

Fieldale President Tom Hensley has said the new jobs will include entry-level, supervisory and administrative roles.

He said he is looking forward to the new facilities, including a new break room and cafeteria for employees. Hensley said planning is ongoing on the project, which is underway, so an exact size of the expansion is not yet known.

Hensley indicated he is hopeful a traffic light can be added at the plant’s new entrance at Thompson Bridge/Ga. 60 and Hubert Stephens Road. He said it’s tough to turn either way onto Ga. 60 at a spot he said is like a “raceway.”

“Right now it’s dangerous to turn off Hubert Stephens,” Hensley said. “And there’s a lot of traffic that comes through there.”

Elsewhere, Cooley Enterprises plans to open a poultry processing operation in an existing building on 11.27 acres at 2063 Memorial Park Drive near Industrial Drive.

Approved earlier this year by the Hall County Board of Commissioners, the plant would process ground chicken and debone chicken parts.

The plan is to hire 20-50 people and operate 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.

The existing structure was used for offices by Perdue Foods until 2014, and before that the property was used for poultry processing by King’s Delight.

Cooley “is not proposing to build any new structure,” Hall Planning Director Srikanth Yamala has said. “However, there is a proposal (for an) interior remodeling.”

“Further processing continues to be an area where companies are meeting customer and consumer demand by taking the fresh product and providing some type of value-added product,” Giles said.

And there’s a big need for employees.

Hensley said in an interview earlier this year he could use 200 more people right away at the company’s locations in Gainesville, Murrayville and Cornelia. 

It’s a tough job market statewide for poultry employers trying to find workers, Giles has said.

“It can sometimes be a challenge to fill out the worker ranks that are needed, and that’s been true regardless of the unemployment rate,” he said.

Enforcement on undocumented immigrants has swelled since President Donald Trump took office. There were about 11,000 more arrests nationally by deportation officers in 2017 between Jan. 22 and April 29 as compared to a similar stretch in 2016.

Looking to the industry’s future, Giles said he feels like it’s bright.

“When you look at the demand for chicken worldwide, it’s growing as economies grow,” he said. “As the population in the U.S. grows, the demand will increase ... Exports have grown over the last 20-25 years.

“We used to rely on a few import markets — Russia was one of the big ones early on. Today, our export markets are much more diversified.”

Expected to help boost exports is the deepening of the Port of Savannah. Officials overseeing the $973 million project recently declared the project had nearly reached its halfway point. The project could be finished in January 2022.

There are stumbling blocks, however, such as the avian flu outbreak in 2015.

“For a temporary time, we lost some of our markets,” Giles said. “We’re recovering (from that), but we have to stay on guard.”

That’s a big part of what the Georgia Poultry Laboratory off Ga. 365 in North Hall does.

“One thing that’s new in the industry is we’re starting biosecurity audits in prevention of avian influenza,” said Louise Dufour-Zavala, executive director of the lab.

An employee “goes to every complex in Georgia to make sure their programs contain the minimum requirements for biosecurity,” she said.

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