The prospect of a Tyson chicken processing plant near Wichita has spawned a community opposition group and spurred an economic development coalition to promise due diligence on behalf of the community.
The group #NoTysonSedgwickCounty has scheduled its first public meeting for Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, the Greater Wichita Partnership, a coalition of business leaders involved in economic development, announced that it is working to evaluate the project and share findings with government officials and the public.
Both groups are researching Tyson and its operations in the wake of last week’s announcement that Sedgwick County is one of three finalists – along with Montgomery and Cloud counties – for the meat-processing plant.
It was initially slated for the Tonganoxie area, but then rejected by local officials after a fierce public backlash.
The plant would employ about 1,500 workers in a variety of jobs related to slaughtering and processing chicken for sale to restaurants and consumers.
Critics say it would bring an odorous environmental mess and the additional jobs would do little to no good for the economy because of low wages and poor working conditions.
“Nobody is going to want to keep those jobs for long, because they’re nasty, dirty, smelly, icky, so there’s a real high turnover,” said Lori Lawrence, co-founder of #NoTysonSedgwickCounty. “Do we have enough people that will want to keep taking those jobs over and over again?”
Opponents of the plant are scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Saturday at Linwood Park Recreation Center, 1901 S. Kansas.
Their keynote speaker will be Don Stull, a retired University of Kansas professor whose career research focused on the impacts of the meat and poultry industries in rural areas.
Also addressing the meeting will be representatives of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, a nationwide group that assists local activists in resisting factory farming operations.
The Greater Wichita Partnership, which works to bring jobs and economic development to the area, announced it is beginning to gather information about the proposal from Tyson Foods and the state Department of Agriculture.
“This information is the first step in a process of due diligence from the company about the finalist counties and from the Partnership on behalf of public partners and the community,” said the GWP’s statement. “As the Partnership learns more from the company on timeframe, it will continue to share next steps with stakeholders, elected officials and the community through the news media.”
The GWP is not at present endorsing or opposing the project, said spokeswoman Jaimie Garnett.
“There’s a lot of research that goes into these projects,” she said. “And there’s a lot of stakeholders, there’s a lot of community input we need to do, there’s a lot of public partners. So we’re really working through right now if this is a fit and if it is, what that means.”
GWP’s statement said the coalition will be looking into issues such as:
▪ Whether the jobs Tyson would provide match the region and its work force.
▪ “Spinoff” agricultural requirements, in essence, a network of chicken farms needed to raise Tyson-supplied hatchling chicks to maturity as a food product.
▪ Environmental analysis of the odor and water/sanitation requirements that go along with large-scale chicken production.
▪ How community input and questions will be handled.