WAMEGO Concept Foods Inc. will not rebuild its fire-damaged plant in Wamego and may move its entire operation out of the state, company owner Bernie Hansen said.
Hansen met with representatives from Hormel Foods Inc. last week to discuss the aftermath of a May 22 fire that mostly destroyed the Wamego Concept Foods plant -- an estimated $5 million to $10 million loss.
The company has decided to either expand its plant in Alma or close it and move the entire operation to Nebraska, Iowa or Minnesota.
Hansen said he favors expanding the Alma plant, which is home base for Concept Foods. Hormel Foods officials will make the final decision by Friday, he said.
The Alma and Wamego plants employ 280 people.
"Hopefully we can influence that decision," he said. "We're working hard to work it out with Hormel to stay here. I've been an advocate for economic development in agriculture in Kansas for 30 years."
Concept Foods processes, cooks and packages some of Hormel's meat entrees. There are 100 employees at the Alma plant, which is the largest employer in Wabaunsee County. An additional 180 people work at the Wamego plant, which is one of the top five employers in town.
Wamego City Manager Merl Page said the decision not to rebuild the plant was disappointing.
"We hope to fill that void," Page said. "That would be our ultimate goal."
Hansen and Hormel are talking with Wabaunsee County economic development director Linda Craghead and working on a package of economic incentives.
He said moving all the 280 employees would not be a problem, since many of the Wamego employees already commute to work. Alma is 16 miles south of Wamego. Concept Food officials say its employees live within a 60-mile radius of Manhattan.
The fire is still being investigated. Preliminary findings indicated that it started near the boiler room.
Hansen said about 30 of the 180 Wamego employees have either gone to the Alma plant or to a Hormel plant in Nebraska. Others will be working on the cleanup in Wamego.
"We can't do anything with the building," he said. "We'd like to recover some equipment like racks and other stuff. We hope to get the site cleaned up as soon as we can."