N.M. could become the big cheese

Jack King

With construction begun on a 54-acre, $190 million cheese plant, Curry County is poised to become a power in the cheese-making world, Gov. Bill Richardson told an audience Friday at the plant’s groundbreaking.
Approximately 200 people from Curry and Roosevelt counties attended the ceremony at the plant site, five miles south of Clovis, off Curry Road 4.
Richardson said the Southwest Cheese plant — a joint project of Glanbia Foods Inc., Dairy Farmers of America and Select Milk Producers — will have a ripple effect throughout eastern New Mexico.
“The capital of cheese will be here soon,” he said.
Richardson said the state of New Mexico has promised to provide $1.5 million for wastewater treatment associated with the plant. He joked that on the bumpy ride to the ceremony State Reps. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, and Joe Campos, R-Santa Rosa, had asked him for money to improve roads leading to the plant.
“I agreed, by the way,” he added.
Richardson said state figures show the Southwest Cheese Plant will generate $45 million in revenues for local communities and $239 million in local and new economic activity over the next 10 years.
The plant is scheduled to open in late 2005.
Scott Dahlgren, a partner in Dahlgren/Skanska, which will help build the plant, said the construction phase should generate more than 700 jobs, some of which will go to local workers.
“We’ll bring in the managerial team and prequalify and hire local subcontractors,” he said.
At full capacity, the plant is expected to employ 225 employees, with salaries averaging $29,000, officials said.
Tom Corcoran, Glanbia’s chairman, said the Southwest Cheese plant will be one of the largest and most efficient in the world. The Ireland-based cheese company plans to make the United States a major growth area and Curry County will be the key to that growth, he said.
Gary Hunman, Dairy Farmers of America’s CEO, said the U.S. dairy industry is moving from the eastern part of the country to the west and the industry in New Mexico and other western states is growing rapidly. The new plant will be one of several “superplants” in the west, he said.
“As I was driving in here … I was trying to envision 140 semis every 24 hours coming into this site and back out. That’s an awful lot of milk, and it’s going to work,” Hunman said.
According to Southwest Cheese, at peak production the plant will be able to process 7 million pounds of milk a day. Michael McCloskey, CEO of Select Milk Producers, said all the milk to supply the plant is expected to come from within a 30-mile radius, most of it from a 15-mile radius.
Since the 1970s, the Curry/Roosevelt county area has embraced the milk industry and the new plant is the “pay day” for that encouragement, McCloskey said.
“There are not a lot of areas in the U.S. with this concentration of milk,” he added.
At full capacity, the plant will produce 250 million pounds of cheddar and cheddar-style cheeses and 16.5 pounds of whey product a year.
The cheese will be produced in 640-pound and 40-pound blocks suitable for slicing by high-speed commercial machines, officials said.
The whey product will be processed into a high-quality protein that will be marketed by a Glanbia subsidiary, Glanbia Nutritionals, to food and health markets worldwide, said Corcoran.
Maurice Keane, CEO of Southwest Cheese, said odor from the plant should not be a problem, which will employ state-of-the-art waste treatment. The plant also will undertake primary and secondary treatment of wastewater, Keane said.
Chase Gentry, executive director of the Clovis Industrial Development Corporation, said city and county infrastructure associated with the plant — city wastewater treatment and county roads — are a $5.5 million to $6 million investment. While financing for the wastewater treatment system has been completed, officials still are working with the office of U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., to complete financing for the county roads improvement, he said.
Work on the local infrastructure is expected to start in four to six months, Gentry said.
At Thursday’s ceremony, Keane presented CIDC with a check for $10,000 and the Clovis-Curry County Chamber of Commerce with a $1,150 check for membership.
Also at the ceremony, Diane Ventura, from the office of U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., relayed Bingaman’s congratulations to local residents and to Southwest Cheese’s partners. Bingaman’s office will continue to provide support for the project, Ventura said.