The company known as Claxton Poultry is expanding by a adding a state-of-the-art deboning and packaging plant in Sylvania, officials announced this week.
Norman W. Fries Inc., which does business as Claxton Poultry Farms, plans to begin construction on the $12 million, 35,000-square-foot facility in the Screven County Industrial Park this year, the Screven County Development Authority stated in a news release. The plant is expected to employ at least 75 people.
“The 75 employees is a starting figure,” Claxton Poultry spokesman Tobin Spirer said in a phone interview. “As operations get underway and production increases, more hires are planned.”
The new plant will process and package meat from chickens freshly slaughtered at the main plant in Claxton and trucked to Sylvania. But the Sylvania facility will not do any slaughtering or rendering, processes that are prohibited under covenants for the industrial park location, said Dorie Bacon, Screven County Development Authority executive director.
The authority is providing the company a 33-acre site in a deal that involves bond financing, Bacon said when asked about government accommodations for the project. Screven County and Sylvania city officials were all supportive, and the city will connect the plant to its water and sewer systems, she said. The Georgia Department of Economic Development was involved in making the arrangements.
Construction of the plant is expected to be finished in nine months to a year, Spirer said. Company leaders had been looking at the Sylvania location for about “the past five years, on and off,” he told the Statesboro Herald.
“It seems to have easy access to workforce, an easy road intersection – main thoroughfares for transport – and it’s reasonably close to the Claxton plant,” Spirer said.
The Sylvania facility is being built primarily to service Claxton Poultry’s food service customers. These include franchise restaurant and deli counter operators such as Chick-fil-A, Walmart, Popeye’s, KFC, Zaxby’s, Bojangles’ and others large and small, as well as school cafeterias and other bulk buyers.
These purchase “portion-controlled, freezer-ready” poultry meeting certain specifications, Spirer said. Sandwich fillets of a certain size and weight are one example. The packaging done at the plant will be in large waxed cardboard boxes and other types of bulk containers.
“We are excited to be a part of the growth in Screven County,” Claxton Poultry President Mikell R. Fries said in the press release. “Our new facility will enable us to meet the growing needs of our current customers and allow for future expansion as customer needs dictate. We look forward to working with the county and the development authority on this project and to contributing to the local economy in Screven and surrounding counties.”
His grandfather, the late Norman W. Fries Sr., and grandmother, Doris S. Fries, founded the company. Norman Fries had launched an ice-packed poultry business in Savannah in 1949, and the original Claxton plant was built in 1958. Today, Doris Fries is the CEO and board chair of a company that processes approximately 2.35 million birds per week and has 1,800 employees, 250 contracted grower families and a fleet of more than 150 vehicles.
“Claxton Poultry represents so many of the ideals and ideas that we embrace, such as family tradition, agriculture, entrepreneurship and job creation,” Bobby Smith, chairman of the Screven County Development Authority, said in the announcement. “I can’t wait to drive down Industrial Park Road and watch their investment come to fruition right here in our community.”
“We are proud to have Claxton Poultry locate in our county and we offer the help of our entire city government in any way that it is needed,” Sylvania Mayor Preston Dees said in another statement Bacon provided.
Jobs in Claxton safe
Although announced as state of the art, the level of automation at the Sylvania plant will not be greater than Claxton Poultry deploys at its other facilities, Spirer said.
“Claxton Poultry is keeping pace with the rest of the poultry industry, and yes, automation is entering the industrial environment,” he said. “We are adding automated functions as they are established and prove effective. We don’t have robots walking around with (artificial intelligence), and I think for the foreseeable future this will be a workforce-intensive operation.”
Besides the slaughtering and processing plant in Claxton, where the company is headquartered, Claxton Poultry’s egg-to-market poultry production system includes affiliate hatcheries at Glennville and a feed mill in Surrency. Contracted family farmers raise the chickens.
A majority of the 1,800 employees work at the Claxton plant, but that total also includes the Glennville and Surrency facilities, according to Spirer.
“It’s not going to displace jobs, nor are we taking jobs out of Claxton,” he said. “There’s no impact on that, just additional jobs in various areas. We’re hiring everywhere we are.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.