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Agri Star promises big economic effect in Postville

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 04/29/2010 10:44 AM

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DES MOINES —Agri Star Meat and Poultry, LLC in Postville is ramping up its beef line.

During a Statehouse news conference last week, Hershey Friedman, CEO of Agri Star Meat and Poultry, said production is at 85 to 90 head of cattle per day. That will increase to 150 daily within the next month and 500 head per day over the next year.

Friedman bought the former Agriprocessors plant out of bankruptcy last summer and renamed it Agri Star. Agriprocessors collapsed in the wake of a massive immigration raid in May 2008 when 389 workers were arrested for immigration violations. The raid resulted in charges of fraud, other criminal violations and allegations of worker mistreatment against the company. Sholom Rubashkin, Agriprocessors vice president, was convicted of 86 federal fraud charges.

Friedman said his goal is to expand the plant so that it can process 1,000 head daily within three years. At it's peak, Agriprocessors processed 500 to 600 head in Postville.

"This is a good day for our employees, our community and Iowa cattle producers," said Friedman. "There has been a tremendous void in the kosher food market. We are excited to bring high quality beef items to our customers while at the same time helping boost the economy of Postville and all of Iowa."

"This return to the kosher market is positive for Iowa cattle producers at a time when the market is rebounding," said Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture. "Farmers always benefit when a company with strong business practices, such as Agri Star, chooses to invest in Iowa. This expansion helps Iowa as we regain market as a cattle producer."

"I know the importance of hard work and treating people with respect and integrity," Friedman said. "Eight months ago I came to Iowa and started Agri Star Meat and Poultry. I made a commitment to create a quality work place where we could iprovide quality jobs at fair wages while producing quality chicken, turkey, beef and deli products for kosher consumers. It has been a journey, but we have made real progress."

An additional 125 employees have been hired to fill the immediate need created by the beef operation and more workers will he hired. The company has 560 employees. Low-end production jobs pay $8 to $9 per hour, Friedman said. Wages on the beef line range from $12 to $17.

The plant uses E-Verify, a federal verification system to check credentials of all job applicants.

Since acquiring the plant in August 2009, the company has invested $7.5 million to upgrade and modernize the facility. The Iowa Economic Development Board approved $600,000 from the value-added agricultural component of the Grow Iowa Values Financial Assistance Program last fall. The project was also approved for Enterprise Zone tax benefits.

Postville Mayor Leigh Rekow said the city is still dealing with fallout from Agriprocessors collapse.

He said Friedman has met with him often. Friedman's goals are shared by the city — worker safety, fair wages, legal workers and a thriving plant producing jobs and a better living in the community.

"We're pleased that Hershey has accepted the challenge to make Agri Star a world player in the production of kosher meat and poultry," Rekow said. "We are grateful to have him and his plant in our community. We will survive and get back to where we were and maybe even better."