Plant construction on target

View of construction at the Southwest Cheese plant on Friday. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Ryan Lengerich: CNJ staff writer

Above-average rain totals in January have not slowed construction at the Southwest Cheese plant, officials said.

The plant, which will become the largest cheese and whey plant in North America when completed, remains on scheduled to be up and running by October, said Maurice Keane, chief executive officer of Southwest Cheese.

Keane said about 400 workers, many of which are local, are currently involved in the construction of the $200 million plant. The main physical infrastructure is nearly complete and upcoming work will focus on installing equipment.
Clovis received 1.33 inch of rain in January, nearly three times the monthly average.

Keane said January rains slightly stalled construction but workers have recovered and are on track.

“We got some rain but not too much to affect us badly, so construction has been going very well,” Keane said.

Keane said December was a productive month for crews. Construction of most of the 30 silos planned has been completed, Keane said.

“What remains is the big pieces and installing all the equipment,” Keane said.

Chase Gentry, executive director of Clovis Industrial Development Corp., said the project has gone along like clockwork.

“We try to look ahead at what might be problems and solve them before they happen,” Gentry said. “We really haven’t had any major problems as far as this project goes.”

The CIDC has worked as a facilitator between Southwest Cheese and area government entities to ensure incentive packages offered to the cheese company are fulfilled.

He said expansion activity in the dairy industry, retail businesses coming to Clovis and a strengthening housing market are clear indicators of spin-off economic activity resulting from the plant.

“I would say anybody in Clovis who has sold a house in Clovis in the last year has benefited from Southwest Cheese being in Clovis,” Gentry said. “People are selling houses for $30,000 to $40,000 more than they would have 12 months ago.”

Gentry said a large number of area dairies are expanding their operations, and multiple dairies are being installed in Roosevelt and Curry Counties to meet the demands of the plant.

Equipment installation will continue through July and August when testing and inspections will take place.

Hiring continues for permanent workers who can expect to begin work right away by helping with construction and starting training. Keane said 225 permanent workers are expected to be employed when the facility opens.

Keane said officials are searching for maintenance people, key operators, quality assurance people and wastewater operators. Applicants with experience or willingness to be trained are being sought.

At peak production, the plant will be able to process 7 million pounds of milk a day, company officials have said.