The Big Cheese

Clovis dairyman Wayne Palla, who owns 3,000 head of cattle in New Mexico and another 1,000 in Texas, looks forward to seeing his milk turned into cheese by the Glanbia plant being built in Clovis. Photo by Darrell Todd Maurina.

By Haley Wachdorf

ALBUQUERQUE — Clovis may not be the largest city in New Mexico, but it will soon be the Big Cheese.
Clovis has been selected as the site of the new Glanbia southwest cheese plant, which is expected to be the largest cheddar cheese plant in North America. Select Milk Producers, the New Mexico dairy operation building the plant, estimates the project will bring 205 permanent jobs to the Clovis/Portales microplex and $450 million in annual sales to the area.
Sporting plastic cheese ties, Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM) formally announced the deal Thursday at a press conference at the Albuquerque Sunport International Airport.
Richardson hailed the development as an economic victory for Curry County and the entire state of New Mexico, and credited state and local lawmakers for offering competitive tax and utility incentives to bring the plant to New Mexico.
The plant site is five miles south of Clovis near the Curry County and Roosevelt County line.
“This is a defining moment for economic development in New Mexico, and here’s the main message — New Mexico competed against Texas and won,” Richardson said. “The only thing we’re not providing is that the governor is not going to work in the plant, and neither is the senator.”
The plant is a joint venture initiated by Select Dairy Products, and co-owned with Dairy Farmers of America, and Glanbia International, an Ireland-based cheese and whey processing company with plants throughout Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Glanbia has 50 percent ownership of the plant, and will manage the daily operation of the plant, which will produce 640-pound blocks of cheddar cheese, using 6.5 million pounds of milk bought daily from state dairy farmers.
Construction on the $200 million plant is expected to begin by the end of 2003, according to officials. Engineering is underway for the plant, which will sit on a 3,000 acre site. The estimated time of completion is July 2005.
Richardson said the average annual salary for a permanent plant employee will be $29,000. The plant will also create 700 annual temporary jobs, and approximately 130 jobs from spin-off businesses, he said.
Clovis Mayor David Lansford, who attended Thursday’s press conference, said the plant is the biggest economic event the county has seen in 10 years.
“A plant this size providing this many jobs is going to be a huge benefit to everyone,” Lansford said. “The retail sector will benefit, housing sales will benefit, I don’t think there is any segment of the local economy that won’t benefit. This is not something that’s going to compete with anything else. This is outside money coming in. I see it as about the most win-win situation we could have.”
Richardson said the state is providing $400,000 in on-the-job training funds and rural job tax incentives or the project. In return, the state expects to collect $10 million in taxes from plant revenues over the next 10 years. Local taxes over the same period will total $5.7 million, Richardson said.
Negotiations for the location of the plant have been ongoing since 2002. On Thursday, Mike McCloskey, chief executive officer for Select Dairy Producers, said the group considered several possible locations across West Texas and eastern New Mexico, but Clovis was the perfect fit for the plant.
“We needed a community that had the infrastructure and the support for a project of this size,” he said. “It was clear that there were a lot of great places and great communities in the Western United States. But at the end of the day, thanks especially to the governor and his desire to create business, when it came time to come to the table and work with us to attract this industry, he came to the table. The city of Clovis and all the people of Clovis have been fantastic.”
Lansford said the only negative feedback local lawmakers have received on the project has been concern that the plant would use too much water. But at Thursday’s press conference, Rance Miles, chief financial officer for Select Milk Producers said the plant will actually generate more water for the area.
“In the process of making cheese, 88 percent of the 6.5 million pounds of milk we use becomes water,” Miles said. “As we remove that water from the cheese and run it through a waste-water treatment plant, it comes back out and can be used for irrigation and such.”