Incentives awarded to Wright County pork plant

State help approved for N.C.-based farms over plenty of objections

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DES MOINES — A proposed pork plant in Wright County, which originally was proposed to locate in Mason City, is getting a second opportunity for $11.5 million in state tax incentives.

Despite the opposition of dozens who showed up to a hearing Thursday, Iowa’s economic development board unanimously approved the tax breaks for North Carolina-based Prestage Farms, which seeks to build a $240 million pork plant in Wright County.

It is the same tax relief package the Iowa Economic Development Authority approved in March for Prestage when the company sought to build its pork slaughter and fabrication plant in Mason City. Local government officials nixed that proposal, leading the company to seek another site in Iowa.

Prestage settled on Wright County and reapplied for the state tax breaks.

An opposition movement that started while the project was being considered for Mason City continued Thursday. About 70 people filled a conference room for the public hearing, during which eight people spoke in support of the project and 23 spoke against.

Most of the concerns centered on opposition to taxpayer assistance for out-of-state companies — although Prestage has operated in Iowa since 2003 and can receive the incentives only if it pays state taxes. Environmental concerns also were voiced. Opponents also suggested companies such as Prestage would build or expand in Iowa regardless of tax incentives.

“Why do we have to bribe somebody to come here,” said Tom Willett, of Mason City, one of a half-dozen people from Mason City or Clear Lake who traveled to Des Moines to state their opposition to the incentives. “It’s to their advantage to be here. We don’t have to pay them to come here.”

Board member David Bernstein of Sioux City said the economic development board is not permitted to consider environmental issues, that those rulings are made by local officials and the state Department of Natural Resources.

Berstein said the proposal meets all the economic requirements the board has established for state incentives, and that the award is similar to others the board has given, including the previous award to Mason City.

“I see no other way than for us to support this,” Bernstein said.

One board member, Dawn Ainger of Hiawatha, voted against the incentives.

The 675,000-square-foot plant will create 922 jobs, about a third of which must pay at least $15.54 per hour to qualify for the tax incentives, according to a board report.

The $11.5 million state incentive package includes an $8.6 million tax credit and a $2.9 million tax refund.

The project also has received a proposed $12.9 million in local assistance, including $8 million tax increment financing rebate from Wright County.

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