Simmons Foods plans to spend $100 million to expand its Van Buren prepared foods plant.
A press release on Thursday said the project will add 65,000 square feet to the existing plant and create 100 jobs. Some jobs include skill jobs that support robotics and automation processes. Work is expected to begin later this month.
“We are excited to build on our success in the region,” said Joel Sabinfeld, president of Simmons Prepared Foods, in a written statement.
The Siloam Springs-based poultry and pet food company has three production plants in River Valley as well as an employment center and care clinic for workers and their families.
There are 600 people working at the Van Buren site at 2101 Twin Circle Drive, where tons of chicken products undergo further processing.
The plan to add two automated production and packing lines is expected to nearly double their production capacity to 210 million pounds of chicken annually. Plans also include improved interior spaces for workers and improved traffic flow in and around the site.
In addition to the jobs created, Sabinfeld said the expansion will support growth in the local economy and help meet market demand for cooked products.
Nephols Construction is the general contractor for the expansion.
In recent years, meat and chicken producers have conducted research and experimented with automation and robotics techniques to improve worker safety and production. Several plans were accelerated after the spread of the coronavirus and temporary shutdowns of operations.
Rival Tyson Foods said last month that it plans to invest $1.3 billion to increase automation in meat plants over the next three years.
The meat industry has struggled to find enough workers in the past two years due to a tight labor market and health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Automating some of the hard-to-fill jobs will help and pave the way for higher skills and salary opportunities for workers, Donny King, Tyson’s president and CEO, said in a recent presentation at Investor Day.
Simmons Prepared Foods is a leading poultry producer in the United States, and its subsidiary Simmons Pet Food is North America’s largest supplier of wet pet foods with products sold at Walmart and other retailers.
Correction: The photo caption used in an earlier version of this story incorrectly describes the location where the photo was taken. The image has been replaced by a photo of the CEO of Simmons Foods.