Garden City got an early Christmas present this year when Empirical Foods, based in Dakota Dunes, S.D., announced Monday, Dec. 23, that it will open a new ground beef facility in Garden City. The new facility is expected to employ about 300 in the Garden City region and will double Empirical's current ground beef capacity.

"Demand for Empirical's lean ground beef requires us to significantly increase our processing capacity to meet the growing needs of our customers. This presents an exciting opportunity for the future of our company and the communities that we call home," said Craig Letch, president of Empirical Foods.

Groundbreaking for the new facility is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2020. Full operation will occur sometime in 2022-2013.

Beef operations at Empirical Foods are technologically advanced, requiring a greater need for skilled staff, who will receive on-the-job training at the state-of-the-art facility in Garden City.

Garden City was chosen for the new site because of its long history in the beef processing industry.

"We took a long time evaluating the right location to be home for our new facility and could not find a better, more welcoming community than Garden City," said Nick Roth, president of Empirical Technology, another Empirical company that will be involved in the construction and management of its operations. "The state of Kansas and Garden City in particular have always been great partners to the beef industry and companies, like ours, that have been valued members of the community for years. As we look to take this next step in the growth of our ground beef business, we can't imagine a better place or better people to be part of the next chapter in the Empirical story."

A formal groundbreaking ceremony and celebration will be held early in 2020.

"We want to plan an event that gives us the right opportunity to bring everyone in Garden City up to speed on all the exciting developments here at empirical. Garden City has so many wonderful things to offer anyone lucky enough to live or work there and we are thankful to have this chance to expand our relationship with the entire community," said Jennifer Letch, head of administrative support.

The Garden City facility is Empirical Foods' largest single investment in the company's 40-year history and will supplement its South Sioux City, Neb., location.

Finney County Economic Development Corporation played a key role in getting the Empirical Foods facility located here.

Lona DuVall, Finney County Economic Development Corporation president and CEO, said its role is to attract industry to the community and find a way to accommodate that industry. From the first visit with Empirical, it became clear that it would fit well in Finney County culture and offered high-quality jobs.

Finney County Economic Development started working with Empirical in August 2018 on the logistics needed to support a project of this magnitude.

The organization helped with site selection at Jennie Barker and US-50 and worked on connecting Empirical with a workforce, finding housing, checking into child care and all the other pieces necessary to support a large economic development, DuVall said.

"It's been a busy, busy year and a half working with them," DuVall said.

When selecting new businesses for Finney County, the community had made it clear it wanted good manufacturing jobs with high wages, and Finney County Economic Development paid attention.

"We don't do projects just for projects sake but do projects that fit our community," DuVall said.

With an additional 300 jobs on the horizon, Finney County Economic Development is working to grow the community to meet the needs of this growing industry. Working with Garden City Community College and Garden City High School, a curriculum program for advanced food manufacturing has been established for students as a career choice. Students can start in high school in this curriculum.

The 300 jobs will encourage people to stay in Garden City and require recruiting across the region.

"We're helping create a place where people want to live and raise a family," DuVall said. "We're very excited about it. They're a great company."

Before the facility opens, the construction portion of the project will impact the local economy. There will be several hundred construction workers on the ground for 18 to 20 months.