published Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Koch Foods eyeing more broiler houses, jobs

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Koch Foods Chattanooga operation wants to add 100 or more broiler houses to the tri-state area in the coming months.

Each pair of broiler houses creates the equivalent of about one job, bringing 50 or more positions to the tri-state area.

The poultry processing company acquired its bankrupt, Atlanta-based rival, Cagle's Inc., earlier this month for $93 million. Koch plans to bring Cagle's Collinsville, Ala., and Pine Mountain Valley, Ga., plants up to full capacity as soon as possible to meet rising European demand.

"We've been fortunate," Dan Nuckolls, a Koch Foods senior manager, said Wednesday. "We're a sales-driven company and fortunately have sales that dictate continued growth."

Koch saw growth before the recession, then held steady throughout. Nuckolls expects this expansion to restart that growth.

"Koch is well run and they've been aggressive in search of new markets," said Ed Harlan, director of agribusiness and forestry development at the state Department of Agriculture. "They have grown as well as any company in Tennessee in the poultry industry."

The industry as a whole has been strong. Last year, poultry was the largest farm product, and areas across Tennessee have seen strong growth, adding 10 to 12 broiler houses a month.

Tennessee has less chicken density than nearby states like Georgia and Alabama. But the state's hilly farmland makes poultry farming an attractive prospect for many Tennessee farmers who would rather stay and work in rural counties.

Koch's growth comes on the heels of an announcement from rival Pilgrim's Pride, which filed papers with the state indicating it may lay off 400 people by June 15. Officials at Pilgrim's officials said increased efficiency in its production is leading to the cut in staffing and the company does not expect to lower the number of chickens it processes in Chattanooga.

Contact Carey O'Neil at coneil@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.

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