California company plans massive ramen complex in Belle Fourche
The global supply chain crisis, government financial aid and a desire to support the "Made in America" movement have convinced a California company to propose a massive ramen complex in a small Black Hills city.
"I think we'll be one of the larger, if not the largest ramen producing facilities in the country," said Bill Saller, CEO of Albany Farms. "Anything that we possibly can source locally, we will."
The complex would include a flour mill, production factories, and packaging areas that would produce more than 100 million packages of ramen each year, Saller said. It would eventually employ up to 900 workers earning what Saller described as "living wages."
The ramen complex will take advantage of the Belle Fourche Rail Park and the statewide agriculture economy. Wheat will be brought to the factory while ramen cups and packets will be shipped by train, Saller said.
"We're super happy to have Albany Farms here," said Hollie Stalder, executive director of the Belle Fourche Development Corporation. "Of course it's great for job creation, and it's a perfect tie-in with the agricultural background that Belle Fourche has. Our transportation network will serve them well and we're so happy that our industrial park was ideally suited for their needs."
Albany Farms recently bought a building in Belle Fourche for its factory and is working on purchasing 11 of the surrounding acres, according to company spokeswoman Stephanie Magoon.
The development corporation is working to donate 23 acres, Stalder said. The corporation will pay $342,032 to add railroad spurs for Albany Farms and other businesses, pending the receipt of a $1.4 million federal grant, according to public records.
Albany Farms also received a $1.3 million loan from the Governor's Office of Economic Development, according to Magoon and a spokeswoman for the office. The company plans to use the loan to purchase manufacturing equipment and is also applying for federal funding, Magoon said.
The company — known for its Panda Signature ramen brand — manufactures its products overseas but decided it needed to switch gears once the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
"With the onset of COVID, importing food became problematic. Transportation has become a major issue for food companies and certainly for us," Saller said.
Saller said the price for their shipping containers has increased an average of $18,000 per container.
"That takes the ramen product and basically doubles the cost to import it," he said.
so the company decided to move all manufacturing to the United States.
Albany Farms' struggle with the international supply chain is a part of a global trend. Factories had temporary shut-downs due to the pandemic, ports are clogged with shipping containers, and companies and consumers have reported long wait times to receive products produced overseas.
Albany Farms began looking for a site within the Black Hills after its lead engineer happened to be driving through the area, Saller said. He said state officials gave company officials a tour of possible locations.
The 38-acre Belle Fourche site is in the town's industrial and rail park, and includes a 50,000-square-foot building previously used for manufacturing oil tanks.
Production will begin in late December or early January if all things go according to plan, Saller said. The existing building will serve as the factory, turning flour, oil, meat and other materials into ramen.
Saller said he's aware of the worker and housing shortage in the area. He said the company plans to attract workers from across the Black Hills, especially those with seasonal jobs looking for more steady employment. Stalder said Belle Fourche is working on a housing plan, and her organization and the state will help recruit.
Future plans include expanding the existing building to 150,000 square feet, Saller said. The company then wants to build a second 180,000-square-feet factory, 50,000-square-feet flour mill, and a small packaging facility.
Saller said the complex will focus on Albany Farms' new Twisted Noodles line and developing ramen with nutritional value, unlike typical options favored by college students. He said the company is creating vegan and low-sodium options, and ramen with enhanced protein and unique flavors.
The flour mill will emit an odor but not an unpleasant one, Saller said. He said leftover wheat will be sent to South Dakota farmers for their livestock.
"We're not just looking at huge production," he said. "We want to lead the way as much as possible and be forward thinking as much as possible from an environmental perspective."