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Albert Lea, Minn. — Unconfirmed reports that Premium Pork had chosen St. Joseph Missouri as its new corporate headquarters began circulating Wednesday evening. Albert Lea Mayor Jean Eaton says while she tried to remain optimistic, the news was devastating.
"In my heart I know how badly we need these jobs for the people of Albert Lea," she says. "An $11 an hour job with benefits is tremendous for a lot of our community members and many many many people were looking forward to those jobs."
Late Thursday afternoon Eaton learned the reasons behind Premium Pork's decision. Company officials say the deciding factors were transportation and proximity to customers.
This isn't the first time that Albert Lea has lost out. Since the Farmland Foods plant burned two years ago, both Ford and Winnebago have considered the city and then gone elsewhere. Each settled outside Minnesota.
But after months of courting Premium Pork, Jean Eaton says she expected more.
"We really have a history of meatpacking. We felt this was a great fit," says Eaton. "We offered an exceptionally good package and are disappointed at this time."
Eaton says in coming weeks local officials will have to examine what went wrong.
The mayor of St. Joseph, Missouri has a couple ideas.
David Jones says St. Joseph has the workforce Premium Pork was seeking. The community of about 80,000 people is a half hour from Kansas City. St. Joseph has its own history of meatpacking. And Jones says the Premium Pork plant will located in a former stockyard area.
Jones says he thinks St. Joseph won the plant because it offered a more confident bid.
"We had all of our cards on the table and had a whole city fighting for this thing because we had the facts," says Jones. "Albert Lea obviously did not have the facts out there in the open and I think it hurt them."
State Representative Dan Dorman says the decision does not reflect poorly on Albert Lea. Dorman says local leaders did an excellent job putting together a generous incentive package. Dorman recently got state officials to kick in another a million worth of aid.
Even so Dorman says he suspects state policy played role in the decision.
"I think they're going to say commercial and industrial property tax. There's a disadvantage there," he says. "I think they are going to say workers comp. There's a disadvantage there."
"Add on red tape and regulations from the PCA, and all the sudden you start getting all of those things on the wrong side of the ledger. And everyone says 'we have a great quality of life that's going to offset it' -- but it doesn't bring all of this back into balance."
Dorman says while Albert Lea may have difficulty recruiting a large employer, there are some positives.
"We're trying to hit a home run with this plant, and the same with the Ford plant, but we do hit some singles. Five jobs here, five jobs there - that's not a bad thing," says Dorman. "We need to keep sure and stay vigilant and help these folks that already here expand."
Albert Lea officials say the quest for a new employer will continue. Mayor Jean Eaton says she hopes the state will declare the community a tax free zone. She says that could make Albert Lea more competitive in the future.