Friesen Foods working through development plans for proposed Madison Food Park

A public hearing hasn’t yet been scheduled for the proposed Madison Food Park southeast of Great Falls, but the project is still in the works.

The developer is currently amending their Special Use Permit application and once its been received and reviewed by the Cascade County Planning Department, a public hearing will be scheduled.

The proposed multi-species processing plant, which also includes plans for a cheese making facility and distillery, is led by Edward Friesen, who has business interests in both the U.S. and Canada. One of those in the U.S. Is the Friesen Nutrition warehouse being built on 6th Street Southwest, near NAPA Auto Parts.

The site just outside the city limits was selected after a review of possible sites across the region and state, according to Todd Hanson, spokesman for the Madison Food Park project.

“Ultimately, variables which factored into the final selection of this particular location included, but were not limited to, access to established travel corridors (Interstate and rail link), access to a skilled and semi-skilled labor force, including worker training and development programs in collaboration with the Montana University System (local affiliates in Great Falls), infrastructure expansion opportunities, rural farming and ranching region close to production agriculture and agribusiness companies, collaboration with strategic economic development project partners (county, city and state), etc.”

The developers did consider property within the city limits, but the proposed site met more of their development criteria, Hanson said.

Hanson said that while the company isn’t finalizing the number of positions within each type of employment at the company yet, “all positions will include compensation packages which are above industry standards for similar positions.”

They’ll also implement an employee recruitment and retention strategy that recognizes the need to attract a workforce that will have longevity with the company.

“Not just jobs, but career path positions,” Hanson said. “That strategy prioritizes a workforce that is sustainable as a direct result of making sure that MFP employees across a variety of positions, have a base wage level and associated benefits package which affords them a comfortable living.”

Hanson responded to The Electric’s questions on community concern related to immigrants and refugees as the workforce for the proposed project.

“We fully recognize the employment potential for workers coming from a broad cross-section of communities around the entire State of Montana, Pacific Northwest, and Upper Missouri-Central States Region. In this respect, workers coming from Wibaux, Libby, Superior, Chester, Dillon, Big Timber, etc. would be immigrants into the Great Falls community,” Hanson said. “We are not targeting any ethnic groups, religious groups, political groups, or other populations by demographic measures as part of the workforce needed for the positions at the MFP campus. Rather, we are focusing on identifying skill sets, aptitudes, experience, work ethic, and related measures of how prospective employees integrate with the mission and vision of the MFP strategic work force development plan and model.”

Hanson said the development team is reaching out the neighbors within the immediate radius of the proposed development and intend to visit with all the neighbors potentially impacted by the project within the next month to hear their concerns first hand and to discuss specific aspects they have concerns about.

If the SUP is approved, the developers anticipate spending the next year on additional testing for state agency requirements and working with the Montana Department of Transportation for road improvements. Rail is also planned in the future for transport primarily of finished products, Hanson said, but those plans are in the preliminary stages.

Site development, utility work, water and wastewater treatment facilities, road work and other infrastructure work would likely take another 12-14 months, Hanson said.

After all that work is done, construction of the first building, the cheese processing plant, could begin.

The goal of Friesen Foods for the project, Hanson said, is to provide an opportunity for Montana farmers and ranchers to realize greater value from the commodities they raise, such as protein, dairy and grain, by having a local processing partner. Hanson said conversations with regional and statewide producers have been ongoing for more than a decade.

“We are confident that as an industry, Montana producers across the board will find it favorable to their bottom line of operating costs to have an opportunity to transport their commodities tens to hundreds of miles to the MFP Campus, as opposed to in most instances, thousands of miles to processors outside the state of Montana,” Hanson said.

Hanson said that while the company anticipates Hutterite producers will use the Madison Food Park for processing, they aren’t targeting any specific groups for the project and the plant would be an option for all Montana producers.

As for the potential smells from a processing plant, Hanson said the developer is including mitigation measures throughout the facility design process.

“Significant resources have been and will continue to be committed to exploring the best, most efficient, most effective technologies for eradicating, where possible, any and all potential odor impacts created by the project,” he said.