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Economic officials push for meat processing plant in Whitehall

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Posted at 6:41 PM, Jan 10, 2022

BUTTE — Economic developers believe it’s feasible to set up a meat processing plant near Whitehall, something they say would help a struggling industry in Montana.

“There’s definitely a great job-creation element to it and being able to increase that role for more people to work locally and just the big picture stuff of being able to keep more Montana cows in Montana,” said Butte Local Development Corp. Director Joe Willauer.

Headwaters RC&D in Butte received about $26,000 in 2020 for a feasibility study to build a meat processing plant in the Jefferson County Industrial Park off Interstate 90 between Whitehall and Cardwell.

Smaller meatpacking businesses have been unable to compete with the Big Four, which includes Tyson Foods, JBS, Cargill, and Marfrig, who they say have an unfair advantage. The amount of cattle slaughtered by the big four rose from 25 percent in 1977 to 71 percent in 1992 and is currently at about 85 percent today.

“For me personally, one of the things I found challenging is we have far more cows than people in this state, but actually tracking down Montana beef isn’t the easiest thing to do all the time, but we all know Montana beef is the best,” said Willauer.

Economic leaders believe developing small meat processing plants in rural areas like here in Whitehall could be the answer to some of the problems the meat industry is facing lately.

“Everyone remembers how challenging were, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, and being able to process more beef in Montana is a good thing for everybody,” said Willauer.

The next step is to find a party interested in starting a plant in Whitehall. There is no timeline.