Governor Laura Kelly, local legislators and other members of the community helped Simmons Pet Food, Inc. celebrate the opening of its new 208,000-square foot Flexible Packaging facility in Emporia with a ribbon cutting Thursday morning.

The $60 million expansion is expected to create approximately 100 new jobs immediately, with the potential to create up to 200 jobs once the facility reaches full capacity. Simmons currently employs 500 team members at its Emporia location.

Kelly said it was exciting to be able to celebrate economic success and growth.

“This is precisely what you have here in Emporia with the impressive expansion of the Simmons Pet Food facility,” she said. “As governor, I am determined to pursue strategies that lead to the kind of business growth, job creation and capital investment that we’re seeing today. The expansion of this plant is a prime example among a number of significant steps forward for the Emporia community.”

Kelly said the expansion will help Emporia continue to improve the lives of its citizens, while serving as a model for other communities around the state.

“You have a lot to be proud of here,” she said.

President of Simmons Pet Food Jason Godsey said the expansion is the latest example of a fruitful partnership with a number of local entities.

“Emporia has been an amazing place and environment for Simmons Pet Food,” he said. “With the city, the economic regional development and the state, it’s just been a great environment. And it’s great for the team members here. We have a fantastic group of team members here.”

Godsey said partnerships with Flint Hills Technical College has helped cultivate a strong workforce.

The expansion allows the company to continue building relationships between people and their pets. The facility will increase the company’s capacity for flexible production and packaging for select wet pet food products.

“There’s a true need for more single-serve type packages and a variety of products,” Godsey said. “We’ve been invested in it and it just continues to grow, to the point that it justified a new facility. Really, we’re just trying to meet the connection between the pet parent and the pet to solve a nutritional need.”

Kent Heermann, president of the Regional Development Association of East Central Kansas, said the expansion was a celebration of a long-standing relationship and partnership between the community and the pet food industry. After discussions about the possibility of bringing a pet food plant to Emporia began in 1994, Menu Foods broke ground on a local facility in 1997.

Simmons acquired Menu Foods in Nov. 2010 and began revitalizing local operations.

“In Nov. of 2010, Simmons bought the pet food operations and it’s just been experiencing remarkable growth since that point,” Heermann said. “Today, when you look at the Simmons campus ... we’ve got over 130 acres, three buildings and almost a million square feet. There’s 500-plus workers with the possibility of 700 in the future. That’s just amazing.”

Heermann said the city had to compete with other communities in order to bring the Simmons expansion to Emporia.

“We had several challenges to overcome,” he said. “Two of them were utility related — Westar and water. The third was labor availability. I think we’ve overcome all of those obstacles.”

The city received a $1.3 million grant last year to build a new water tower to support business expansion and economic growth for Industrial Park III near Penny Lane and Weaver Street. The 1,000,000-gallon tower, which is still being constructed, will provide additional water pressure to the south end of town.

Heermann said Emporia’s proximity to two post-secondary institutions — Flint Hills Technical College and Emporia State University — also helped solve the issue of labor availability by allowing Simmons to recruit graduates of those institutions.

Godsey said Simmons could not see this type of growth in any other community.

“We love being in Emporia,” he said. “With all of the support from Kansas, the state, the city, the economic development committee — we plan to be in Emporia and continue to grow as we see the market change. We are only the strength of our team members, and we have a fabulous group of team members in Emporia, which allows us the opportunity to continue to invest here.”

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