Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett was among the dozens on Wednesday morning who gathered in Lebanon County to celebrate the construction of a new, state-of-the-art chicken plant.
The groundbreaking ceremony at 2929 Route 22 in Bethel Township, near Fredericksburg, is where crews are building the 160,000-square-foot Bell & Evans facility.
"You are a model. You are a part of the community. You are growing jobs for the people of this community and nearby communities," said Corbett, of Bell & Evans, a family-operated company specializing in organic poultry.
The new plant will be its second in the region. At the ceremony, company executives said the facility will create approximately 350 new jobs upon its completion next summer.
"We already have back-up employees hired and as the months get closer to start up, we're going to continue to do that," said Bell & Evans President Scott Sechler, a native and resident of Berks County.
"This is really the epitome of what private enterprise can bring to a community," said Pennsylvania Senator Mike Folmer, R-Dauphin/Lebanon/York counties.
Sechler told 69 News that the project, dubbed "Esther's" after a nearby family-run restaurant, will be followed by another in upcoming years. That expansion, set to take place at the former Keystone Protein plant down the road, is expected to add up to 1,500 jobs.
Sechler said the undertaking will help accommodate the company's rapid business growth across the country. Sechler said Bell & Evans currently supplies produce to Whole Foods, Wegman's, Chipotle, and mom-and-pop shops in every state.
"We're going to be producing special products for special people, for markets all over the United States," he said.
The expansion comes right on the heels of a competitor's closure. In March, Perdue Farms shut down its natural chicken plan in the nearby Fredericksburg area, leaving about 650 people jobless.
Sechler said he has already hired some of those workers and hopes to hire more.
"If they fit into the Bell and Evans quality of people that would enhance our team, we would hire 'em," said Sechler.
As it is currently, the company employs about 1,200 people, making it the third highest employer in Lebanon County. Yet according to Sechler, about half of his current employees are from Berks County, mainly Reading.Ground broken on chicken plant; 350 jobs to be created