Christian County residents gathered Monday night in the old Pembroke High School gymnasium to host a community meeting to discuss their concerns and questions regarding the industrial prospect of landing a beef processing facility in Christian County.
Monday morning, the South Western Kentucky Economic Development Council heard updates from H&R Agri-Power President Wayne Hunt and SWK EDC Executive Director Carter Hendricks regarding the industry, which has been kept confidential while officials consider the possibility.
Hendricks shared that the business would be the fifth largest meat processing plant in the United States and would require a 500,000 square foot facility, totaling a roughly $300 million investment.
The facility is proposed to be located at Commerce Park #2 in the area of John Rivers Road and promises to bring in an estimated 1,300 jobs, each starting at between $18 — $25 an hour.
Hendricks also shared that the business is American and family owned and would be state-of-the-art with little to no odor coming from the plant. He added that the facility would also be heavily regulated by environmental protection agencies as well as other protection agencies.
While Hendricks and other officials spoke favorably of the industry and its potential move to Christian County, county residents took the opportunity Monday night to share their concerns with other citizens as well as their local elected officials.
Christian County residents, most of which were from Pembroke, filled the old high school gym along with Hendricks, Hunt and several elected officials, including both county magistrates and Hopkinsville City Council members.
Local farmers and agriculture experts, including Phillip Garnett, Brandon Garnett, among others also attended the meeting to listen to community concerns or provide their own input.
The meeting began with Brandon Garnett providing additional information he and others were able to obtain regarding the potential beef processing industry.
He added that the industry would see an estimated 70 cattle trailers per day being hauled into the facility, creating a potential increase in local vehicle traffic in the Pembroke and Hopkinsville area.
That estimation coupled with the expected 1,300 additional jobs the facility would bring in, was a major concern for the majority of the citizens that attended the meeting.
Several citizens shared during the meeting that they feel safe walking the roads in their neighborhoods in the Pembroke area with their children, but if the facility were to locate in the area, traffic would increase, creating potential danger to families.
Residents also shared concerns that additional traffic in the area would also possibly increase longer commute times as well as vehicle collisions and accidents.
Towards the end of the meeting, after several residents asked Hendricks to answer the crowd’s many questions and concerns, Hendricks shared with the proposal of the new business, the SWK EDC as well as county and city government is considering and pushing towards getting an Interstate-24 connector road leading to the Commerce Park area of Christian County.
Hendricks stated during the meeting that the connector would help alleviate traffic concerns.
“That is one of the reasons we continue to advocate for the I-24 industrial connector — it’s not just for this project, it’s for traffic that’s already all up and down Pembroke Road and Highway 115,” Hendricks said. “As you know, there are 28 industries along Pembroke Road, employing over 8,000 people currently, so you know better than anybody the impact that’s having on transportation.
“So, the I-24 industrial connector and that road project is critically important.”
Another large area of concern for residents centered around the influx of jobs the facility would create, which Christian County citizens feared would increase the amount of immigrant and out-of-county workers.
Several residents shared that the county is currently experiencing a worker shortage with many industries struggling to hire new workers. With that in mind, many residents questioned where the workforce would come from to fill an additional 1,300 jobs.
Residents shared that they feared that the new business would then turn to migrant workers, which would eventually influence the Pembroke area’s way of life.
Hendricks shared that of the current industries within Christian County half of each businesses’ workforce is comprised of Christian County residents. The other half is mostly people from across the state of Kentucky.
“(The industry) will not only draw upon the people of this community, Hopkinsville, or Christian County, it will draw upon a regional laborship that is nine counties wide and has about 450,000 people throughout that regional laborship,” Hendricks said.
“If you drive through any of our industrial parks and you go through their parking lots, you’re going to see license plates from all over this region and if you took Christian County versus other counties, it would be about half and half.”
However, the crowd seemed to disagree with Hendricks’ favorable descriptions of the industry as they continued to share concerns of the potential negative impact the business would have on the Christian County area.
Christian County Magistrates Phillip Peterson and Jerry Gilliam and State Representative Myron Dossett, as well as the Garnetts, each told the crowd to speak with their elected officials, whether that be county magistrate or Hopkinsville City Council member, and voice their opinions and concerns with the industrial prospect.