Greeley ready to welcome Leprino dairy plant

GREELEY – Perhaps the biggest economic boon to ever come to Greeley – at least to its downtown area – is about to open for business.

Denver-based Leprino Foods is set to open the first phase of a massive new $270 million cheese production facility just southeast of downtown Greeley. 

Ted Wietecha, a Leprino spokesman, said the company expects to open the first 127,000-square-foot phase of the project in early November. Ultimately, the facility will encompass more than 880,000 square feet after all three phases are built and in operation.
How busy will things get in there?

“We will use approximately 1.5 million pounds of milk per day to produce nonfat dry milk,” Wietecha said.

That’s just for starters.

Later – after phase two of the building is complete in late 2012 – the company will “ramp up its production of mozzarella cheese and other dairy products,” Wietecha said.

At that point, he said, the facility will consume more than 4 million pounds of milk each day and, when phase three is open at some point in the future – depending on demand – the facility will process more than 7 million pounds of milk and produce more than 700,000 pounds of cheese each day.

The Dairy Farmers of America cooperative has the exclusive contract to provide milk for the Leprino facility, and it’s been estimated that the region will need to add about 60,000 more dairy cows to meet the ultimate demand.

The Weld County Commissioners recently took action to change the county’s zoning regulations to make it easier for new dairies to come into the county and existing dairies to expand.

Wietecha said about 90 of the 100 full-time workers needed to staff the first phase of the plant’s operation have been hired, and more will be hired in 2012.

“We’ll begin hiring an additional 200 employees in early 2012 for phase two,” he said, adding to that another 200 will be hired for the final phase.

Wietecha said the facility’s employment impact will be far greater than just those who will be working inside.

“Those are the direct jobs, but that will stimulate thousands of other jobs in the dairy industry, trucking, veterinary services, suppliers and other sectors,” he said. “It’s an immense impact, and we’re happy to be doing it.”

City already benefitting

Even before the facility opens, the city of Greeley is already reaping benefits from its newest employer.

The construction site has provided hundreds of construction jobs over the last year, with sales taxes collected from the purchase of local building materials and spending by construction workers and their families flowing into city coffers.

Last month alone, the city collected more than $63,000 in building permit fees and sales taxes from the construction of buildings to support the facility’s own waste-water treatment plant and construction of the core and shell of phase two of the project.

And all of that is just the beginning in benefits to come from the new cheese plant, local officials say.

Becky Safarik, Greeley’s community development director, said it’s expected the facility will generate about $325 million for the city over the next 20 years. But it doesn’t stop there, she noted. A city economic impact model showed the Leprino plant will generate $4.8 billion in economic impacts to Weld County and $10.1 billion statewide.

“You’ve got that food chain going back so far, its expected impacts will be felt on so many levels,” she said.

Safarik said the city is providing tax increment financing for the facility, with all increases in property tax on the site channeled for the next 25 years into eligible public improvement projects in the vicinity of the project.

She said it’s expected that figure will total about $60 million over the 25-year period, which will go to Leprino as reimbursement for the new public infrastructure – including utilities and street improvements – that it is building as part of the project.

Safarik said the facility is also generating interest from new businesses that want to be close to the cheese plant.

“As long as a year ago we started to get contacts from companies that are suppliers to Leprino,” she said. “So we’re seeing some ancillary businesses starting to look at the area.”

Wietecha said the Greeley facility is Leprino’s 10th spread across seven states. In addition to its Denver headquarters, Leprino has another Colorado production facility in Fort Morgan.

Altogether, more than 1,000 will be employed in Leprino’s Colorado facilities when the Greeley plant opens, Wietecha noted.

He said the choice of Greeley for its second Colorado production facility was a natural.

“We took a lot of things into account,” he said. “Dairy Farmers of America is one of the leading milk cooperatives in the U.S. We worked with them (on selecting the city), and Northern Colorado is such a wonderful, strong dairy community – plus its proximity to Denver.

“We consider Colorado our home, so we’re very pleased to have it be in Greeley,” he said. 
 
Steve Porter covers agribusiness and natural resources for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3147 or sporter@ncbr.com.