The fatigue factor is real.
I can blame a whole bunch of things: decreased daylight, rising costs of living, seasonal allergies, a pandemic virus – again – some employment uncertainty and the seemingly general unpredictability of life.
Then, of course, add an election year. So we can also point out that political fatigue is superimposed on all of that too, right?
As I have done for almost six years, our publication does not accept political ads. We occasionally have partners who write about political issues, but you won’t see ads for candidates or ballot issues on SiouxFalls.business or Pigeon605.com.
There are many reasons for this, but reader fatigue is there. I want our publications to be a place where you can learn about all the other factors that drive our business and the wider community.
But when business and politics intersect, I have no choice but to resolve it in the most credible way possible. I’m sure I could have dedicated more stories to voting issues involving our community slaughterhouses in the recent and coming weeks.
Before I go any further, though, can we talk about the use of the word “slaughterhouse”? I’ve been researching this industry for many years, and I’ve always referred to these facilities as meatpacking plants. Granted, it doesn’t sound as scary or inflammatory as “slaughterhouse,” but it’s a more accurate term.
I digress. I just can’t attest to all the legal means, advertising tactics and endorsements that cover any party involved in this issue. If you are interested, you can find it elsewhere.
But I do think you might be interested in what I found when I started calling Fremont, Nebraska.
If you want to know someone’s true story, it’s best to ask the next-door neighbor.
In this case, I asked several folks in Fremont about their experiences with Wholestone. The company opened in Fremont in 2018 after purchasing a processing facility from Hormel Foods. Wholestone then began a multi-year agreement to supply Hormel pork raw materials.
To be fair, Fremont is not Sioux Falls. This is a community of about 27,000 people located 30 to 45 minutes from Omaha. It also houses a chicken and beef processing plant. It’s an important part of the community economy, so when new players come to town, they’re understandably a little nervous. They also have a lot of experience knowing that not all processors treat the community the same way.
“Wholestone has done everything they say they say,” said Mayor Joey Spellerberg, who took office in late 2020 and also owns a travel agency. “They treat their employees very well. They have a great benefits package. It’s a great place to work. Not once have they been reluctant to answer our questions. It was a great collaboration without a doubt.”
As a reporter, I can tell you that Wholestone was never willing to answer my questions. Board Chairman Luke Minion gave me an interview earlier this year and didn’t shy away from anything:
Here’s what else you should know about Wholestone.
Christy Fiala, executive director of Fremont United Way, shared with me that about half of Wholestone’s employees choose to deduct United Way from their paychecks, and Wholestone matches 100% of the donation. The company also supported its employee volunteerism, and was instrumental in 2019 when the town suffered catastrophic flooding.
“My overall impression of Wholestone is that they come to a community and want to see how they can help, how they can collaborate,” Fiala said. “I’ve just been impressed. They use their expertise to serve the community. It’s very helpful to serve on the boards of nonprofits. They organize volunteers. These are two of many examples. I won’t say this to every organization in this community, but I insist on saying it to Wholestone because That’s exactly what they did.”
I also spoke with Diane Mallette, chair of the board of directors of the Greater Fremont Development Council, the region’s economic development arm. She is also an executive at a local manufacturer that supports the construction industry.
“No. 1, as far as community stewards go, you can’t find a better company,” she said. “When they came in, everyone was nervous about buying Hormel. I think everyone thought it was going to be cut and killed, not ham and hot dogs, and honestly, it wasn’t a problem at all. They thought The higher-level positions will disappear, but that’s not the case. It’s a very, very clean operation, state-of-the-art. They’ve made a lot of improvements, which is fantastic.”
I don’t know what to expect with these calls, but it was eye-opening to hear such glowing compliments.
To be fair, I think opponents of the Wholestone plan might tell me that they have no ill will towards the company itself. As we know, it’s hard to argue with a business model that promotes local producers as part of the operation and has an excellent track record.
From what I understand, they are concerned with the location of the plant, as their initiative will require any new processing plants to be built outside the city limits.
As written, there are two things I think are worth considering about this ballot measure.
First, the city limits of Sioux Falls can sometimes change as fast as every month. There are successive annexations. So a project that is outside the city limits today may become the “island” of tomorrow, technically not being annexed, but city properties growing around it.
Second, my biggest problem with the written initiative is that it allows Smithfield to continue expanding downtown.
Not long ago, I was standing on the top floor of the new 10-story Bancorp building at Cherapa Place, looking out at Smithfield in the distance. If we’re going to discuss whether certain locations are suitable for meat processing, I hope we can also discuss how to convince Smithfield to build elsewhere—even with Wholestone, as Hormel did. If Smithfield’s only option was to expand downtown, that conversation could and never happened. The company has enough land to do this, and through this initiative, our community will ensure that this is the only place Smithfield can grow.
So let’s deal with the elephant in the room, shall we? I asked Nebraska respondents the question, and my guess is the main reason for the opposition.
How bad is the smell?
“Okay, so, we’re at their back door,” Mallett told me. “I mean, our factory isn’t far away at all. We’re near them. Sometimes—and not very often—you can smell it, and it doesn’t last long. It could be early morning, etc. By the time I went out to lunch, it was over. I would say they have new measures, they say they will implement it, they are working on it, and it will improve further. It is so much better than the previous Hormel days, they are Try to make it better.”
When I asked Fiala on the United Way, she just laughed.
“Yes, people want to know,” she said. “I live about a mile from the factory and I probably work less than that, about half a mile, and I can’t smell them. I don’t. And I also spend a lot of time in the factory with United Way , is beautiful. It has no smell. They manage a clean, professional environment.”
She also has many friends and family who work at Wholestone, “if there’s a problem, I’ll hear from them, and I haven’t heard anything different from what I told you,” she said.
I gave the mayor a pass because I think you’re guessing after the fact what the elected officials might claim.
Remember, a new plant with a new cutting-edge filtration system is the best chance this community has to accommodate agriculture-related jobs that serve a broad population while addressing the factors that cause some to shy away from these factors.
I hope the community doesn’t have to vote on this at all, and the opponents could have worked with Wholestone to ensure that any worrisome environmental factors are mitigated to the greatest extent possible. That’s the typical way we do things in this community.
Regardless of how you end up voting on this issue, I think you should know what I found when I went to ask the people who I think best understand how this company does business and what kind of community impact its existence can have.