Construction at the Southwest Cheese Plant is 25 percent complete. The plant is scheduled to open in October 2005. Staff photo by Eric Kluth.
By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
Victor Orlowski cut about 60 hours of road time a month off his schedule when he came to Clovis to work at the Southwest Cheese Plant.
The plant’s engineer said he doesn’t miss the traffic and long trek involved with his former job at Dean Foods in Los Angeles, and is looking forward to working and living on the High Plains.
He’s one of about 110 employees working for what will become the largest cheese and whey plant in North America.
After construction of the $200 million plant, Orlowski will organize and direct the maintenance department.
“I’ll be here for 20 years, until they throw me out,” he said. “The people here seem to be very friendly. I had a very good job at Dean Foods. The difference between that job and this one is the 65 hours a month traveling back and forth …”
Being an employee who came to Clovis from a faraway state, Orlowski is a rarity.
Of the 110 employees more than 100 are from the area, he said.
Maurice Keane, chief executive officer of Southwest Cheese, said contractors are in the process of hiring construction workers. Within a few months the number of employees will increase to about 200 at the site. Eventually, Keane said about 400 workers will be involved with construction of the plant, which is scheduled to be up and running by October of 2005.
He said most of the employees are living in Clovis or Portales, but some commute daily from as far as Amarillo and Roswell.
“Things are going well,” Keane said. “We’re probably 25 percent of the way done, as far as construction. There is rapid progress being made on the construction side.”
He said he is now hiring people who will work at the cheese plant once it’s completed. He doesn’t expect all applicants to be savvy in the intricacies of the cheese and dairy industry.
“We expected them to bring some experience, but clearly we will be giving a lot of people training,” he said.
The plant has 16 silos built, or about half the amount that will tower near the Roosevelt and Curry County line when the plant is built.
At peak production, the plant will be able to process 7 million pounds of milk a day, company officials have said.