By Timothy Cox
St. Henry-based Cooper Farms, one of Mercer County's largest employers, will be getting even bigger with a $3.7 million expansion.
Plans call for the company to build a 35,000-square-foot facility adjacent to its existing facility. The project would retain Cooper's existing 525 employees and add at least 10 jobs. Mercer County Community Development Director Larry Stelzer said the job creation number is conservative and speculated the turkey processor could end up creating 20 or more new jobs.
Cooper has operated in St. Henry since 1988 and processes about 4 million turkeys annually.
Ohio Department of Development officials this week awarded a $500,000 grant to the village so the wastewater system can be improved to accommodate the Cooper expansion.
The grant money would be used to install a fourth lagoon cell to increase the existing plant's treatment capacity. The plant could not accept additional wastewater from Cooper without the expansion. "By helping companies like Cooper Farms to expand, we are helping stimulate economic growth," said Lt. Gov. Bruce Johnson in a news release. "The state is committed to providing assistance to communities to help attract and retain good jobs for Ohio's citizens."
The new lagoon is just the second phase of a sewer upgrade expected to cost about $1.6 million, St. Henry Village Administrator Don Hess said. The plant's existing flotation aeration devices would be replaced with permanent aeration equipment. The second phase would include the new lagoon, which would increase the plant's treatment capacity by about 60 million gallons.
In addition to the $500,000 grant from the development department, village officials have lined up other funding for the project. About $250,000 of local money raised from the Burkettsville sewer tap-in would be used, and the town has secured a no-interest loan of $370,748 from the Ohio Public Works Commission. The Ohio Water Development Authority has granted tentative approval for a loan of up to $750,000 at 3 percent to cover any remaining balance on the project.
The first phase is expected to begin soon by seeking bids for the work, Hess said. Most of the work likely would be done next year, he said.