Meat processor to expand in Cody
November 5, 2020
POWELL — Forward Cody has received a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to support an expansion of Wyoming Legacy Meats in Cody.
Along with a $553,108 loan from Pinnacle Bank, the funding will build a new 12,000 square foot expansion, which will be able to process about 75 head per day. The plant is projected to create 50 new jobs, with an average wage of $18 per hour.
In the past decade, most of the regional meat processing in the state shut down, leaving producers dependent on large, out-of-state packing plants that process thousands of head of cattle per day.
Rep. Sandy Newsome, RCody, who was once a meat inspector, was among the officials who attended an Oct. 27 press conference announcing the grant award.
She explained that most Wyoming producers sell their livestock at auctions, where it’s then shipped out of state for processing.
“The shift has caused the quality of our beef to become a commodity, and our ranchers to become price takers,” Newsome said. When Wyoming-raised cattle are processed in large plants, it’s mixed together with meat from other states, making it nearly impossible to market Wyoming beef at a premium.
Wyoming Legacy Meats is a USDA-inspected facility, meaning the produce it processes can be shipped to restaurants and grocery stores in other states.
The lack of processing options outside the major packers was brought to the forefront when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of large meat packers, leading to nationwide meat shortages.
“We were the only source of meat in the region on many days,” said Frank Schmidt, who co-owns Wyoming Legacy Meats with his wife, Caety.
Frank Schmidt explained how he and Caety, both retired doctors, started the business as a means to market beef under an all-natural model with no hormones or antibiotics.
“We felt like if we could take out some of the things we didn’t like, it would contribute to the health of the people who consume the meat,” he said.
The problem was they lost control of the beef at the point of sale. The Schmidts purchased the processing facility in 2016 to process the meat from their ranch and, after a significant retrofit, were able to get the USDA certification.
Schmidt said it will take some time before they get to the point of creating 50 new jobs, but the current facility just can’t serve the demand in the area for regional processing.
Speaking after the press conference, Schmidt said he’s looking at partnerships with Northwest College and other schools in the state to help train the workforce they’ll need.
“We’re definitely going to establish a training network,” he said.
Randy Walters, Wyoming Legacy Meats plant manager, said finding a trained workforce is “a problem in any industry,” but was confident they’d find the people they need for the new facility.
Schmidt said they were able to find 22 trained meat processors for the current operations.
Officials from Washington also spoke at the press conference, including Joel Frushone, director of the office of external affairs and communications at the EDA, and Anthony Foti, assistant secretary of legislative and intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Foti noted that, in addition to the grant and loan, the project would include $400,000 in private investment for new equipment at the facility.
“We call that skin in the game,” Foti said.
Cody Mayor Matt Hall called the beef industry a “cultural, spiritual and historical” part of the region.
Caety Schmidt thanked the EDA for the grant, saying the businesses couldn’t have undertaken the expansion without the federal funding.
“President Trump is committed to supporting business growth and economic development across the country,” Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in an EDA news release on the grant. “This project will fund the construction of a new building as well as access roads, and parking facilities that will grow northwest Wyoming’s beef production capacity and support the area’s livestock producers.”
Frank Schmidt said that, when the new facility is complete, it’s going to open doors for Wyoming producers to brand their beef.
“When you say Idaho, you think potato. When you say Wyoming, people should think of a thick, juicy steak,” Schmidt said.
The grant announcement comes while another Cody businessman, David Peterson, is working on plans to open a smaller meat processing facility on Powell’s south side.