Move will eventually mean hundreds of jobs coming to the area
By Beacon Staff
Oct. 26, 2021
BELLE FOURCHE – Albany Farms has chosen to move the headquarters of its food manufacturing operations from Los Angeles to Belle Fourche, S.D., with the goal of beginning production of their signature line of ramen noodle product later this year. According to Bill Saller, President and CEO, the operation will initially employ up to 60 workers with expansion plans to be phased in over the next four years that will greatly increase production and bring more than 500 hundred additional jobs.
“This is an exciting time for Belle Fourche and an exciting time for our community moving forward,” said Renae Shaffer, President of the Belle Fourche Economic Development (BFED) Board of Directors. “What is most impressive about this company is how it works with our roots in agriculture. It’s the type of business that is perfect for our community.”
Hollie Stalder, BFED Executive Director, said their organization along with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) has been working on this for the past 10 months and it finally came together. “Belle Fourche was perfectly positioned for this project,” she said. “We have the transportation network in place with the trucking in our region, the rail that serves our community, and the industrial park which was ready and presented the perfect opportunity for them.”
Saller told the Beacon there were two factors that prompted his company to make the complex decision to relocate from the west coast. The first was the international supply chain disruptions that came with the pandemic. Albany Farms wanted to bring all operational aspects of the business from overseas back to the United States – no longer relying on sourcing raw materials from Southeast Asia.
“In every horrible situation there is opportunity,” Saller said. “What we see in all this is that it has allowed us to get into U.S. production, to bring jobs back, and be a small part in bringing the food supply back to where it should be, and we feel good about that.”
Because their product line relies heavily on flour, the decision to move to the wheat belt brought focus to the relocation decision. With that came the decision to move out of California to a more business-friendly environment in the Midwest and South Dakota presented the best option. Albany Farms reviewed proposals from Rapid City and Piedmont but ultimately settled on Belle Fourche.
“Almost immediately everybody in our search group felt Belle Fourche was the perfect fit for us. The main thing was the people. We were greeted warmly and made to feel welcome,” Saller said. “Moving a business is not easy to do, it’s complicated and expensive. But I do want to say it was the tenacity and the warmth that came from Hollie and everybody else in Belle Fourche that got us to this point today. And we plan on rewarding that with some significant growth here, with this and other ventures that we have moving forward.”
Albany Farms has already closed on the purchase of the 50,000 square foot Permian Tank manufacturing plant at the Belle Fourche Industrial and Rail Park. The company already has employees on site converting the building into a facility which will produce food products.
“We should have brand new machinery in early November,” Saller said. “If all the machinery arrives and our engineering team gets it up and running, we’re hoping to be packaging at the end of November.”
Saller says there will be additional machinery to create another production line that should go online in January with the goal of being in full production mode by late March or early April 2022. By then Saller says they will need at least 150 employees, from machine operators and assemblers to plant managers, engineers, and human resource personnel.
“These are all new jobs – fresh jobs,” Saller said. “We feel confident that we can find enough folks to fill those positions.”
Stalder is confident that the local workforce has the skills that Albany Farms will be looking for. “I think of how diverse our people are here because they have agricultural backgrounds,” Stalder said. “They know how to operate equipment and have multifunctional skill sets.”
Albany Farms began developing its ramen product five years ago and began selling it under the “Signature Panda” branding in major retail outlets such as Wal Mart in 2019. To date the company has moved more than 50-million packages during the pandemic. It is a stable and nearly recession-proof product and Saller sees the demand growing every year.
“Ramen is quick, cheap and it’s there when you need it,” he said. “Global sales are now at $30 billion dollars and that is expected to grow to $70 billion in 5-to-6 years.”
Saller says they have customers waiting right now for their U.S. made product. And Albany Farms has plans to match the rising demand by expanding the new Belle Fourche facility in phases over the next four years. The next step will be adding a 100,000 square foot addition to the existing building to increase production. After that Saller says they will build a second 150,000 square foot plant on 23 adjacent acres they have purchased from BFED. That move will allow them to expand into other food product lines such as boxed macaroni and cheese. By that time manufacturing will have grown from 600 ramen packages produced per minute to a minimum of 3,000 per minute.
“Ultimately the plan is for the Belle Fourche facility to be one of, if not the largest ramen producing facilities in the country,” Saller said.
The Belle Fourche made product will be sold under the brand name Twisted Noodle and will be distributed nationwide. The package labeling will include text which says the product was made in Belle Fourche, SD.
“We’re going to be very proud of that,” Saller said. “Normally when we import (product) we make that font as small as possible. Now that we’re here, in the Center of the Nation, it’s going to be a very prominent font I can assure you.”
Saller says they plan to use wheat grown in South Dakota for production from day one. “There’s a fiscal reason for that in addition to doing the right thing for the local business community. Flour locally sourced in the U.S. is much cheaper than what we’re currently importing, which is about 35% more. It’s better fiscally but also provides business for our neighbors.”
Saller also adds that they want to locally source as much as they can including corrugated packaging, films, oils, and protein sources.
By June of 2024 Albany plans to construct a flour mill at the Industrial Park which will produce not only wheat for production but packaged consumer wheat under the Albany Farms brand. By-products of the milling process will be used to provide some electrical power generation for the plant and local feed for ranchers. At that point Albany expects to employ between 800 and 900 workers.
“It (the expansion) is contingent on our partnerships at the state level and the federal level,” Saller said, “because the amount of investment will be very significant to get to this point.”
Saller expects that up to $40 million will be required to fulfill that vision.
As Albany Farms grows its footprint in Belle Fourche, BFED knows that the community will need to be prepared for the challenges that will accompany that potential growth. Those challenges include workforce recruitment and training and housing.
“That’s why it is going to be important to have the support from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and it will be critical to moving forward,” Stalder said. “The state has some great programs for training and they’ve indicated they will assist with that. And (Albany Farms) was also a driving force behind our recent housing study. Now we must make sure that it doesn’t just sit on the shelf but gets put to work.”
“Your community has two choices, either it moves forward, or it dies,” said Shaffer. “We don’t want to be the latter.”