Peco ready to celebrate distribution opening

 A driver makes a final test on one of Peco’s high-tech forklifts, which are programmable to pick up specific loads and are surrounded by safety rings that warn of obstructions or humans.
Staff Writer

It’s been 385 days, give or take one or two.

And while that’s longer than the company originally intended or hoped, it’s been worth the wait.

And with the first load officially arriving Monday morning, the excitement at Peco Foods’ new distribution center in West Point is almost palpable as crews mow grass, clean parking lots and put on finishing touches for corporate brass and visitors.

Inside, some of the 31 current employees, a few of whom are finalizing their training, zip around in bright yellow overcoats and black thermal pants good to temperatures of minus 60. That’s good since the main shipping area stays at a balmy 38 to 40 degrees and the freezers are at minus 10.

Visitors get bright orange jackets.

Tuscaloosa-based Peco, the nation’s eighth-largest poultry producer will unload that first shipment and officially cut the ribbon the the new 190,000-square-foot operation Monday morning.

The shipment is coming from the company’s Feather Lane plant in Canton, Miss. It marks the beginning of a new era for the company, which never before has had its own freezer and distribution facility, relying instead on contractors.

More than a year ago, Peco bought the old Americold Logistics plant on West Church Hill Road that serviced Bryan Foods. The site had been dormant for a dozen years when Bryan/Sara Lee shut down.

The center will hold millions of pounds of frozen chicken for delivery to the company’s large customer base.

The products will come from the company’s plants in Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. All the products brought to West Point will be new; existing products held by the current distribution vendor will be shipped out from those locations while inventory builds in West Point.
Peco had hoped to have the distribution center running by December. Weather and equipment delays slowed those plans.

But now, with sleek walls and the latest in shipping and safety technology, the plant is hardly a shell of its old self.

Even the engine room is brightly colored, passing for a day care center if not for the big motors.

“If you are going to do it, do it right,” Plant Manager Jordan Townsend said Friday during a quick tour, going from the minus 10 freezer to the normal temperature in the maintenance office as seal-tight doors maintain energy efficiency from one section to another.
A current Peco employee who worked at the old site points out with some degree of fascination the thermo-dynamic electronic doors that seal in the cold while warning of approaching electric transports.

“It’s been a long time coming, but the excitement, it’s here. Everyone is excited,” Townsend said.

Meanwhile, Jesco Construction is making progress on the company’s 160,000-square-foot partial fry plant attached to the distribution center just to the west on the 30-acre campus.

“It’s coming along, it’s amazing at what they’ve been able to get done once they got a head of steam,” Townsend said.

The company hopes to have it operational by next June.

Together, the two facilities represent more than a $70 million investment and eventually will employ more than 300 people.