New packing facility scheduled to open in Arizona

Nov 30, 2009

New packing facility scheduled to open in Arizona

Tri-Western Meat Packing, Inc. is scheduled to open a new slaughter and packing facility in Willcox, AZ, approximately 80 miles east of Tucson, AZ. Operation of the facility, which will be housed in a former apple warehouse, is anticipated to begin in three to four months, according to local media. Although the plant will be able to handle up to 100 head of cattle and 260 pigs daily, production will begin on a scaled-down basis while employees are trained.

According to Bas Aja, president of the Arizona Cattle Feeders Association, Tri-Western is not looking to compete against the large packing companies like National and Smithfield, but to supplement the large packers by filling a local niche. The Willcox location will give Tri-Western access to feeder pigs at a nearby Hormel-owned pig farm, as well as providing processing for an area that is currently lacking a cow kill facility. They also will process regular fed cattle.

Local media reports that Tri-Western plans to export most of their pork product to Mexico. Meat from slaughter cows is destined for Los Angeles, while higher grading meat will be shipped to Texas and Colorado.

David Walker Sr., president of Tri-Western, has been in the packing industry 45 years. He has owned several other packing plants in Arizona, most recently a facility in Tolleson, AZ, which sold two years ago. According to Walker, due to the unaesthetic aspect of the packing industry, finding the right home for his business has been a challenge.

But despite previous difficulties in other locations, prospects for Tri-Western in Willcox look good. City Manager Pat McCourt explained that Willcox is a town that is friendly to the cattle industry, having at one point been a major cattle-shipping location. "We’re an old western town," says McCourt. "In the early 1900s, we used to be the largest cattle-shipping location in the country. Cattle are a part of our heritage and are still a big business here, so (Tri-Western) fits right in with our culture."

Adds McCourt, "The community has received them very favorably and their plans very favorably. When I say ‘the community,’ it’s not just City Council, but people on the street."

In the present economy, there are good reasons to welcome a new source of jobs and an addition to the local tax base. "It’ll help our economy," says McCourt. "Once they get geared up, they’ll have about 60 full-time employees there, and for us, that’s big time."

The city of Willcox has gone so far as to rewrite city code to accommodate Tri-Western’s plan for their chosen location, adjacent to the local auction yard. Though the Tri-Western site was zoned industrial, City Council had to change a 70-year-old zoning ordinance in the Health and Sanitation chapter in the city code which forbade slaughter facilities within the city limits.

"We had a very old ordinance on our books that prohibited any meat facility within the city limits. The City Council looked at changes that have occurred in the (packing) industry and said it doesn’t make sense to keep this on," McCourt explained.

Indeed, the new packing plant will utilize ecologically progressive strategies to keep the facility as environmentally friendly as possible. According to reports, the plant will make maximum use of slaughter animals, generating little or no waste product. Animal byproducts and processed blood will be sold. Any remaining waste will not be not dumped into the sewer system, while methane gas will be captured to provide a renewable energy source. Water will be recycled on-site. And although entirely eliminating odors is not possible, the Tri-Western facility has been designed with a view to creating less pollution, and maintaining better energy and water conservation.

In order to minimize traffic congestion in town, local media reports that livestock will be trucked in only between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. Cattle will be kept in pens until processing on the same day as arrival. Due to the cost of feeding, livestock will not be kept overnight.

McCourt is optimistic that Tri-Western will provide a much-needed boost to the local economy and will constitute a good fit with Willcox’s cow-town history. "We’re very hopeful that (Tri-Western) will be a part of our community, and that it will fit right in with our heritage." — Andy Rieber, WLJ Correspondent