Politics & Government

Commissioner: Sedgwick County has told state it won’t pay to get Tyson chicken plant

Feathers fly over announced Tyson Foods chicken plant in Tonganoxie

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Sept. 5 announced that Tyson Foods would build a chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie. The plant was expected to create 1,500 jobs, but there was some public opposition.
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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Sept. 5 announced that Tyson Foods would build a chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie. The plant was expected to create 1,500 jobs, but there was some public opposition.

Sedgwick County has already told the state that no incentives will be offered to attract a Tyson Foods chicken processing plant, Commissioner Richard Ranzau said Wednesday.

County officials and opponents widely believe Tyson won’t come to the county without an offer of tax breaks or other financial subsidies. Other communities are expected to make such offers to attract the facility, which would come with a $320 million construction budget and approximately 1,600 permanent jobs.

“I’m not supportive and I don’t think this commission is supportive of incentives,” to lure Tyson, Ranzau said at a commission meeting. “We know that they’re not going to get incentives.”

Ranzau was the first commissioner to publicly break with the county’s official neutrality on the Tyson issue. The other four commissioners didn’t take a stance at the meeting.

Later, Ranzau said in an e-mail that the county and Greater Wichita Partnership have already informed the state that Tyson won’t be getting any incentives.

“There is not support in the Commission for incentives for Tyson,” the e-mail said. “GWP has already told the Department of Agriculture and the governor last week. I don’t see them (Tyson) coming without them.”

The GWP is a group of business leaders that acts as an economic development arm of local government and has been studying potential impacts of a Tyson plant on behalf of the county.

“For some reason they are holding off on announcing this until Friday,” Ranzau said in his e-mail. “I think it may be because of the Spirit announcement but I think the people have a right to know. There is no sense in making people worry about this any more than they already have.”

Spirit AeroSystems announced Wednesday that it will greatly expand its Wichita operations with financial assistance from state and local government.

After the county meeting, Commissioner Michael O’Donnell said he expects an announcement by the weekend on whether Tyson can expect incentives from the commission.

Sedgwick County was named with two other Kansas counties as finalists for the plant in October, after Leavenworth County retracted incentives in the face of strong local opposition.

In late October, all five Sedgwick County commissioners signed a letter inviting Tyson to consider the county as a site for the plant, characterizing it as a “wonderful opportunity” and promising to collaborate with the company “every step of the way.”

Since then, a determined movement has coalesced to stop Tyson from coming to Sedgwick County, with opponents citing potential smells, water quality and social impacts from a plant that would slaughter and package hundreds of millions of chickens a year.

A development speculator’s efforts to assemble land between Haysville and Clearwater as a possible site for the plant has inflamed public opinion in the southwest county.

O’Donnell said he wants “to get this thing resolved quickly one way or another.”

If there isn’t support here for incentives, he said, he wants to officially take Sedgwick County out of the running so as not to hamper bids from Cloud and Montgomery counties, which appear to be trying hard to land the plant.

Ranzau unequivocally said he won’t support giving any incentives to Tyson.

“I see both sides of the issue having family members who worked in beef-processing plants, but they (Tyson) are not going to come here, they’re not going to get incentives, for whatever that’s worth,” he said.

Ranzau’s comments brought a round of applause from about a dozen Tyson opponents in the audience.

The group #NoTysonSedgwickCounty has made a point of having people address the commission on the issue every week.

Tyson opponents said they appreciated Ranzau’s comments, but intend to continue to campaign until a majority of commissioners come out against the plant.

“I loved his statement. I wish it would have been echoed by the others,” said Jeff Zogleman, who lives in a rural area north and east of Clearwater.

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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