Plautz touts local ag perks

Dennis Plautz, Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance chief executive officer, is excited about Webster County’s industrial expansion and optimistic about the Fort Dodge’s future.

Speaking at the GFDGA Ag Relations Committee meeting Thursday, Plautz detailed the history of Tate & Lyle and the arrival of Cargill.

Though the plant was originally conceived as an ethanol production facility, but unfinished, that is not how Cargill will use the $300 million property.

“Cargill wanted it for a different business model, which was simply to produce sugars and starches that would be used in somebody else’s production process, like CJ America’s,” he said. “They’re putting $135 million into it on top of what’s there. It’s in their best interest to market to other companies. That’s what will make that plant successful.”

Plautz said having privately owned companies locally is a great opportunity for the county.

“Cargill last year had $134 million in sales. They have 66,000 employees. They’re in 66 different countries around the world,” he said. “And now CJ is spending $323 million out there to build an amino acid plant, which is just one example of the type of facility you can associate with (Webster County).”

New companies will mean more jobs in both Webster County and Fort Dodge.

“Cargill will start with 134 people, but they will have about 50 percent more than that in what they call embedded employees, where they will hire someone from a local plumbing firm to be on-site 40 hours a week, same person every day, but employed by somebody else,” he said. “It’s not what they do, so they contract out and call those people embedded.”

According to Plautz, this is changing the local economy from “commodities trades, lower-wage, lower-tech agricultural economy” into a “higher-wage, value-added agricultural economy.”

“Instead of growing the corn and shipping it someplace and adding value to it, we’re growing the corn, shipping it out west of town and adding value to it,” he said. “The fiscal multipliers in that are just exponentially blowing up our economy here.”

He added, “I just don’t think yet we realize what’s happening here.”

Plautz advocated being positive about growth and of efforts past and future to inspire development in Webster County.

“Often times we want to be negative about stuff. People still think it was a bad thing Tate & Lyle didn’t finish that plant. What a horrible thing,” he said. “But when you think about it, what happened? Tate & Lyle came in, their chief executive changed, all that stuff occurred. And now we’ve got an asset sitting out there.”

Tate & Lyle, Plautz said, had a contract with Fort Dodge for the cost of sewer lines and modifying land and paid $243,000 monthly the entire time the unfinished plant sat unused, a debt which Cargill has assumed.

“The city was out nothing and they did not bill anything back to the rate-users in the city of Fort Dodge as a result of it,” he said. “Plus, you have all the construction workers for that period of time. I kept track of that. It was either the $260 (million) or $240 million mark. Forty million dollars of contracts went to businesses with a Webster County address. All that happened, and we’re to where Cargill has it and we are where we are today.”

He added, “Tell me what’s negative in any of that.”

Fort Dodge will also benefit with increased economic growth, which creates greater city and state funds, Plautz said.

“From a retail sales tax standpoint, we’re capturing the market very well,” he said. “Our retail sales tax, we’re up $183,000 this year, comparable to $4 million in additional sales. That’s an indicator of having these contractors in town and all this stuff going on. It’s more disposable income in the regional economy and it’s just beginning.”

A challenge still for Webster County is developing a skilled work force and providing housing for incoming employees. According to Kelly Halsted, GFDGA economic development director, efforts to grow these have already started.

“We’ve been working very hard to grow our work force within, training and visiting the high school,” she said, “working on our future work force.”

City Councilman Kim Alstott said investing in amenities such as the aquatic center, trails and new middle school helps to convince companies to come to Fort Dodge.

“If you have a chance, if you hear something negative, tell them how this really works,” Alstott said. “You have to have initial outlay before you get money coming back in. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

Plautz added, “This is the greatest opportunity Fort Dodge has ever had.”