WATERTOWN — A private investor is showing interest in financing a proposed meat processing plant that would be built in an agribusiness park being developed on Route 3.
Jay M. Matteson, the agricultural coordinator for Jefferson County, said discussions are in the early stages with the unidentified investor interested in the project that’s been talked about for years.
The investor is an acquaintance of one of the project partners. He’s a southern businessmen involved in the agriculture industry and has other business holdings, Mr. Matteson said.
“It’s a key piece of the project,” he said. “It’s a very positive step.”
The subject of the meat processing plant and the investor came up during Thursday’s Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency meeting.
Earlier this year, local developer Michael E. Lundy started construction of the Thousand Islands International Agribusiness Park, adjacent to Jefferson-Lewis BOCES on Route 3.
The small- to medium-sized meat processing plant would be a coup for the local economy and agricultural industry at a time when the national meat processing industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The virus has caused meat shortages in grocery stores across the country because plants have been forced to shut down with employees suffering from the illness, Mr. Matteson said after the meeting.
The national meat packaging industry is now being served by four large companies that produce 80 percent of the country’s beef and pork products.
“The disaster has demonstrated an extreme need for a USDA meat packing plant in northern New York and across the state,” he said.
While the north country has been insulated from some of the meat shortages, the plant would help dairy farmers facing dropping dairy prices to try to sell livestock or cows that are no longer producing large amounts of milk, Mr. Matteson said.
During Thursday’s meeting, board member W. Edward Walldroff, who owns Homestead Fields Organic Farms, said that Congress is looking at taking out federal regulations in the meat processing and putting them on the states, which would be beneficial to smaller plants.
The plant also would be helped by locally produced food trends, board members said.
“It fits in with the food supplies in the United States,” said Donald C. Alexander, CEO of the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. “It would be a better environment than what’s happening with large processing plants.”
A few years ago, Dakota Global Consulting, which Mr. Lundy hired to conduct a feasibility study, concluded that building a facility to process 200 cows per day would cost $20 million, and it would cost millions more for other startup costs. But that feasibility study concluded that 30,000 cattle from the Canadian market head to processing plants in southern states a year.
Some of that cattle could be harnessed for the Watertown plant, Mr. Matteson said.
“Livestock is driving down Interstate 81 and right by Watertown every year and on to other states,” he said.
He likened the situation to Midway International Logistics LLC, a company located in the old Renzi Foods building on Bradley Street that conducts USDA inspections on poultry products that are transported from the south up to Canada.
Before Midway moved to Watertown five years ago, boneless chicken products were driving right by the city on their way to Canada. In recent years, Midway has seen an increase of business and has become an important player in the local industry, Mr. Matteson said.
That also could happen if Watertown lands the meat processing plant, he said.
With construction progressing, the 220-acre agribusiness park, which straddles the towns of Watertown and Hounsfield border, will soon be the home of Eagle Beverage and Cazenovia Equipment Co.