No incentives means no Tyson plant in Sedgwick County

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Dec. 14, 2017, print edition of The Times-Sentinel and the Haysville Sun-Times. To see stories like this sooner, call 316-540-0500 and get home delivery.

By Sam Jack

Members of the Sedgwick County Commission ended nearly two months of speculation, activism and protest when they announced last week that they will not offer incentives to Tyson if the giant food company builds a $320 million poultry processing plant here.

The announcement came through the Greater Wichita Partnership, a county- and city-supported nonprofit that had been conducting due diligence research in furtherance of the possible plant.

“The Partnership has done excellent work gathering information and analyzing this potential project,” Second District commissioner Michael O’Donnell said in a Dec. 7 statement. “However, the marketplace for new jobs, especially at this level, is very competitive, and no community has unlimited resources. That means every community has to make decisions on when and where in the marketplace to compete.”

Later the same day, Tyson released a statement in which it stepped away from Kansas prospects and highlighted a recently-announced poultry operation in Humboldt, Tenn.

“While a number of Kansas communities have expressed interest in a new Tyson poultry operation, we’re not actively engaged in planning discussions with any city or county since making our announcement in Tennessee, and are not currently considering any potential property in Kansas,” the Tyson statement read. “That’s why we believe any speculation, conjecture or government action about a potential Tyson Foods facility in Kansas is premature.”

Grassroots opposition groups started to organize, on Facebook and in person, soon after Sedgwick County was announced as one of three finalists for a Kansas plant, on Oct. 18. “No Tyson Clearwater,” “No Tyson Haysville,” and “No Tyson Sedgwick County” members distributed yard signs, circulated petitions, spoke at county commission and city council meetings, and even spelled out “No Tyson” in Christmas lights and mowed it into a farm field.

The Clearwater City Council approved a formal resolution opposing a poultry plant in the county, after opponents packed the council chamber and overflowed onto the street outside.

With the near-term threat of a poultry plant eliminated, Tyson opponents scheduled a “We Won” party for Wednesday, Dec. 13. But activist Kippie Bock, who lives in the rural area between Clearwater and Haysville that had been rumored as a possible plant site, said that she plans to stay watchful.

“If Tyson thinks that Sedgwick County is a good deal, a good location, they could still come here without incentives. We’re going to monitor the situation and make sure that we stay on top of changes in the county commission or the Kansas Legislature,” she said.