Wells Jenkins & Wells Update - IMPEC Project Complete
Wells Jenkins & Wells began a multi-million dollar expansion project in the spring of 2021. Partially funded by a $2.6 million COVID-19 relief grant from the Department of North Carolina Agriculture & Consumer Services called the “Increasing Meat Production and Capacity” grant, this expansion project enabled Wells Jenkins & Wells to triple throughput and serve significantly more farmers in Western North Carolina.
According to the Department of North Carolina Agriculture & Consumer Services, the food animal industry represents about 70 percent of North Carolina’s agricultural economy. This grant program supported that industry by increasing efficiency and capacity of local small-scale meat processing facilities that will benefit the livestock producers, processors and consumers to ensure an uninterrupted supply of safe and wholesome North Carolina meat products.
“The COVID pandemic showed us vulnerabilities in the food supply chain and the need for local products to meet consumer demand,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
Funding for this cost-share program was approved by the N.C. General Assembly and came from federal CARES Act money earmarked for North Carolina.
Throughout construction, Wells Jenkins & Wells continued to operate – not wanting to disrupt farmers’ businesses any more than necessary. This project took a lot of creativity and flexibility from Wells Jenkins & Wells staff, contractors, and subcontractors to ensure both timely building delivery as well as simultaneous facility/business operations. By November of 2021, construction was far enough along to open the newly renovated building for full use, and by December of 2021, construction was complete. Wells Jenkins & Wells is still ramping up production and they continue to bring new processing equipment online. So far, the business has made incredible strides to meet and even surpass the production goals that were set at the start of the expansion project.
Wells Jenkins & Wells anticipated a 300% increase in the head of cattle they would be able to process per week, and have already reached that goal. A 400% increase in weekly cattle numbers is predicted by the time the facility is running at peak capacity. Before the facility expansion, the facility processed 25 head of cattle per week, and now it processes between 60 and 75 head of cattle per week with more room to grow. The capacity for hog production is right on target at 50 head of hogs per week, up from the previous maximum of 15 to 20 head before the expansion.
This increase in capacity and efficiency within the facility has helped Wells Jenkins and Wells increase the number of farmers they serve. They added approximately 200 additional farmers to their client list in recent months. Facility wait times have decreased dramatically, down to 1 to 2 weeks in most cases. During the pandemic, facility wait times went up to 6 to 8 months – untenable for both the business and for farmers served.
Employment numbers are also up and continue to grow. Before the expansion, this facility had 20 full-time employees, and now there are 30 full-time employees, with five additional open positions. Some long-term employees were promoted to new supervisory positions as new employees were hired and trained.
Overall, this expansion project has been transformative to both Wells Jenkins & Wells and to the agricultural community they serve in Western North Carolina. The facility has been able to provide faster service to long-term clients while increasing the number of farmers and families served.