LUMBERTON — More than 4,000 people have applied to work at one of Poultry giant Sanderson Farms Inc. facilities in Robeson County.
Sanderson Farms’ St. Pauls and Lumberton facilities will be fully up and running by the beginning of January.
Bob “Pic” Billingsley, director of development and engineering for the company, said Tuesday that about 300 people have been hired to man the $17 million hatchery on N.C. 41 in Lumberton and the $115 million processing plant in St. Pauls. He said that during two job fairs, one held in Lumberton and one held in Hoke County, more than 4,000 applications were received for the 1,100 positions that will eventually be filled when the hatchery and the processing plant are fully operational. The company plans to hires a mostly local workforce, although some top management will be brought in from other locations.
According to Billingsley, those who work for Sanderson Farms will be paid competitive wages and receive lucrative benefits. He said that employees at any of the company’s facilities, no matter where they are located, receive the same benefits. Benefits do not change because of regional economy, he said.
Billingsley, during a presentation to the Lumberton Rotary Club Tuesday, said that the hatchery is scheduled to be open and operating in three weeks. In addition, on Nov. 14, training for employees will begin at the processing plant with “full actual production” beginning the first week of January,” according to Billingsley.
“We have been right on our schedule since we began the construction process,” he said.
Billingsley told the Rotarians that his company, the third largest poultry producer in the United States, is the only company that has built new poultry complexes since 1997 and is continuing to seek new locations to build plants and expand operations.
“There are a lot of poultry operations in North Carolina, but they are old facilities,” he said. “When you look at our facilities you are looking at the newest and most advanced.”
Billingsley described the business philosophy of Sanderson Farms as “conservative.”
“We are not going into debt,” he said. “We don’t owe anyone anything. We are a very solid company and with lots of money in the bank. That’s why we can continue to build and expand.”
Billingsley used his brief presentation to allay concerns about environmental problems associated with either of the facilities being built in Robeson County. He said that just last week Sanderson Farms was recognized by the United States Poultry and Egg Association for having the best wastewater treatment process of poultry processing plants in the United States. Smell and groundwater contamination have been among the primary concerns of those opposed to the chicken processing plant.
Billingsley also told the Rotarians that there will be no new chicken houses popping up across Robeson County to support the local hatchery and processing plant.
“The chicken houses will be near our feed mill in Kinston,” he said. “You always want to keep your chicken houses as close as possible to the feed mill.”
According to Billingsley, Robeson County and Sanderson Farms are a perfect fit. He said that the county offers all of the elements desired by his company when it looks to expand its operations, and that those involved in local economic development recruitment efforts — including Greg Cummings, the county’s industrial recruiter, and Ricky Harris, the county’s manager — did a “well researched and professional” job of selling the county to Sanderson Farms after the company’s original plans to locate in Cumberland County fell through.
“It took a lot of people to get us to where we are today,’’ Billingsley said. “Everyone pitched in and pulled the rope to get here.”
According to Billingsley, Robeson County can expect Sanderson Farms to follow its trend of being active in the communities in which they have facilities.
“We work hard but we also play hard,” he said. “We will immediately support the United Way, but we will need to start generating revenue before we can start supporting other things.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.