Tyson representatives posted an update on the reconstruction of the Holcomb meatpacking plant Friday morning, saying the plant is still months away from reopening entirely but has been able to resume limited ground beef and value-added production.

Tyson Fresh Meats President Steve Stouffer said in the update that the company appreciates the support from Finney County residents following a fire that heavily took to the harvest floor of the plant on Aug. 9 and 10, caused by a “flash” following welding work near the slaughter area. The plant has since closed temporarily for reconstruction.

Tyson, Stouffer said, “will continue to strive to do the right thing” as staff works to reopen the plant.

“In the initial days after the fire at our Holcomb, Kansas, beef plant, we started seeing local business marquees, banners and buttons with the message ‘We Stand with Tyson. Forward together,’ " Stouffer said in the post. “We were encouraged by the support, especially as we considered the challenges ahead and how the unfortunate closure of our facility affects so many people — our team members, the community, cattle producers, customers and investors.”

As reported previously, Stouffer said the fire “severely damaged one of the most critical parts of the plant: the hydraulic and electrical system that supports the harvest floor.” The company is currently replacing support beams and a portion of the roof that collapsed during the fire, and will then install “a vast amount” of new wiring and equipment, he said.

Tyson spokeswoman Liz Croston declined to comment on the cost of damages to the plant and whether the company had learned anything else about the cause of the flash that started the fire.

“As previously reported, we currently expect to resume normal operations by the beginning of 2020,” Stouffer said in the post.

As announced shortly after the fire, Stouffer touched on the company’s decision to pay full-time, active employees their normal rate for 40 hours each week, regardless of hours worked, until the plant reopens. Part-time employees were not granted a guaranteed weekly pay, but are compensated for any time they work.

Croston confirmed that employees report to the plant each Monday to receive job assignments for the week, working a scaled-back schedule that varies from week to week.

Stouffer said employees “have been instrumental in helping with clean up, allowing us to quickly assess the damage and begin reconstruction.” At the end of August, the Holcomb plant was able to resume some limited ground beef and value-added production, he said.

Croston declined to comment on how many Finney County employees have resigned from the plant since the fire, citing “competitive reasons.” She said the company is “pleased with our team member retention since the fire.”

The Holcomb plant was responsible for about 6% of all the beef processed in the United States, and its temporary closure has rippled out to other industries, including trucking companies and cattle suppliers. Tyson staff are aware of the effects and are working to “mitigate the impact” to cattle suppliers, Stouffer said in the post.

Cattle production at the local plant has been diverted to other Tyson facilities, where the company has been able to increase production, Stouffer said in the post. The redirection means extra transportation costs for cattle suppliers that would usually deliver cows to the Finney County plant, and Tyson is covering the extra expenses.

Some Finney County employees have volunteered to temporarily work at other sites and the company has “invested in helping relocate them,” he said. Croston said in an email the number of employees working at other sites varies week to week and depends on the location and skill set needed.

He said Tyson representatives will continue to hold informational calls and meetings with key suppliers, industry leaders and government officials throughout the reconstruction process.

Stoufer said Tyson will be “forever grateful” for Finney County and Kansas’ support following the fire and thanked first responders.

“We will continue to update the community and all stakeholders as we move towards getting the facility back to full strength,” Stouffer said in the post. “It’s during times like this you realize the importance of community and the relationships that have been built over the years.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the Tyson spokesperson's name. Her name is Liz Croston.