Cheese plant still scheduled to open in October

The Southwest Cheese plant is slated to open in October and at that time will begin producing 250 million pounds of cheddar cheese a year, according to the company Web site. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

A fresh layer of concrete coats the county road leading to the Southwest Cheese company. Adding asphalt to that layer is just one of a shrinking number of items left on the plant’s to-do list.

The company’s Web site, www.southwestcheese.com, monitors the days, hours, minutes and seconds that remain until the 340,000 square-foot plant’s grand opening, slated for October, according to Southwest Cheese Company Chief Executive Director Maurice Keane.

The autumn start date, however, depends on construction, Keane said.

“Right now there’s a lot of finishing going on — finishing of some buildings and installation of equipment,” said the executive director, who has yet to commission the operating equipment for the plant, which, at full capacity, will produce 250 million pounds of cheddar cheese a year, according to the company Web site.

The payroll is currently comprised of 100 people, Keane said. Another 40 should soon be on board. Southwest Cheese officials previously said the company would employ about 220 people at full capacity. “We will probably be starting with about 180 people,” Keane said. “We won’t have all of those people (on site) until October and it will probably take us about 15 months to get to full capacity.” He said the plant is searching for “a few maintenance people with electrical skills” to add its staff.

The key Southwest cheese ingredient — milk — will be provided locally, mainly through the cooperative Dairy Farmers of America, Inc., Keane said. Other providers include Select Milk Producers Inc. and the dairy cooperative members of the Greater Southwest Agency, Inc.

The plant’s progression is cause for celebration, according to Walter Bradley, director of government and industry relations for the Southwest Area of Dairy Farmers of America. There are already 130,000 dairy cows in a five-mile radius of Clovis, Bradley said, and that number, he added, will only mushroom.

“Because of the cheese plant we are experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in the dairy industries. Right now, there are 11 dairies in the process of moving to the eastern New Mexico, west Texas area. The cheese plant will consume about 140 truckloads of milk a day. That means we need more production to supply existing contracts,” Bradley said.

“To sum it up,” he added, “it means more money for the Clovis-Portales area.”