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Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce opposes city ban on new slaughterhouses

The regional business group's position is a win for Wholestone Farms, a farmer-owned coop developing a pork processing plant in northeast Sioux Falls. City residents will vote on the proposed ban Nov. 8.

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Jeff Griffin, president and CEO of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.
Contributed
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Wholestone Farms’ plan to build a $500 million pork processing plant in Sioux Falls gained a valuable business ally this week.

The Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce announced it is opposed to a change in city zoning ordinances that would effectively ban all new slaughterhouses. It’s a question that city voters will decide on Nov. 8.

“The Chamber has always supported the Wholestone project,” said Jeff Griffin, the group’s president and CEO.

The city’s zoning laws and system are in place so that businesses have a clear understanding of what’s allowed, what’s not and where, Griffin said. Regardless of whether that’s a pork plant or some other industry.

“We can't unring this bell,” he said. “We have a business who followed all the steps and met all the requirements and we need to keep the door open on this.”

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The vote has broad implications for not just development in the city limits but for pork producers and the agriculture sector in general. Wholestone Farms is a farmer-owned cooperative with about 200 members.

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Construction is underway for a custom butcher shop on the site of a planned pork processing plant run by Wholestone Farms in northeast Sioux Falls.
Patrick Lalley

The coop plans call for a processing facility that could handle up to 6 million pigs per year, a substantial expansion of capacity in the region. The existing Smithfield pork plant near downtown Sioux Falls processes about 20,000 pigs every day, which translates to more than 7 million a year.

Robert Peterson, treasurer of Smart Growth Sioux Falls, the group that put the question on the ballot, said the Chamber of Commerce doesn’t speak for all businesses.

Robert Peterson
Robert Peterson, treasurer for Smart Growth Sioux Falls, which opposes new slaughterhouses in Sioux Falls.
Contributed

“Many business leaders across Sioux Falls are raising the alarm about the threat more massive hog-slaughtering operations pose to our economic future,” he said. “To attract investment in high-wage jobs, we need fresh air, clean water, and neighborhoods where workers can raise a family.

Technically, the ballot question does not mention Wholestone directly. The language addresses the development of any new “slaughterhouse.” Wholestone believes that a custom butchery that is under construction on their site near the intersection of interstates 29 and 229 means they are grandfathered under the existing ordinance.

The Chamber’s position is a no vote on the ordinance change in part because Wholestone has followed the existing zoning, which was changed from agricultural to heavy industrial in 2017. That change included two public hearings and meets the overall zoning plan knows as “Shape Places” that voters approved in 2014.

Peterson said residents didn’t know that could include a pork processor the size of Wholestone.

“The proposed location blatantly ignores the city’s own ‘Shape Sioux Falls 2040’ plan, which has that area designated as ‘light industrial,’” he said. “When rezoning occurred in 2017, residents were not made aware of any plans for a massive slaughterhouse.”

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The results of the election are but one step in the process, however. Smart Growth Sioux Falls says they are considering legal options beyond the vote.

Wholestone and the Chamber have been in communication over the past year, as the development moved forward, Griffin said. The mission of the group is to encourage the development of private industry of all kinds.

Any time a business of this size expresses interest in coming to Sioux Falls, the Chamber gets involved as it relates housing, schools, quality of life and workforce, Griffin said.

One of the concerns expressed by Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken and others is that 1,000 new employees will increase pressure on already short housing supply and short-staffed businesses.

Griffin said Wholestone has a plan to develop their workforce and he’s confident they will find the people to do the work.

If the city waits to have enough housing, or guarantee there will be a workforce, it will be too late.

“What are we going to do, dig a moat around the city and stop letting people move here?” Griffin said.

The problems of housing and workforce and the challenges to city government are real, he said. But he has faith in market forces to provide the resources.

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“It’s a tricky balance,” he said. “Our nation has a history of workers moving and that’s still the case. I believe that South Dakota continues to be an attractive place to come and live and work.”

MORE FROM PATRICK LALLEY:
Footage includes progress on a small butcher shop and proximity to nearby businesses and landmarks. Sioux Falls voters will decide whether to ban future slaughterhouse in the city on Nov. 8.

Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for the Forum News Service in Sioux Falls. Reach him at plalley@forumcomm.com.
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