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Steve Kirby, an early opponent, now says he's neutral on Sioux Falls pork plant

The prominent businessman, and former lieutenant governor, says personal reasons led him to "revisit support" of a ballot issue to ban future slaughterhouses within Sioux Falls city limits.

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A graphical rendering of a planned Wholestone Farms pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Contributed / Aaron I. Hoffman
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A prominent opponent of plans to build a pork processing plant in the city now says he’s neutral on the issue.

Steve Kirby, a former lieutenant governor of South Dakota, Republican gubernatorial candidate and co-founder of a major private equity firm, says he “backed off” from a group that wants city officials to pause the planned construction of a pork processing plant in northeast Sioux Falls.

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Steve Kirby is a founding partner of Bluestem Capital Co.
Contributed / via www.bluestemcapital.com

“I have some confidential reasons, personal to me, that caused me to revisit my support,” Kirby said in an interview Wednesday, Aug. 24, with Forum News Service. “That’s why I’m no longer part of it.”

He declined to elaborate further or comment on the broader issue of slaughterhouses in the city limits, a question that Sioux Falls voters will decide in November.

“I’ve actually stopped thinking about it since I became neutral,” he said.

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Kirby was one of three prominent residents quoted in a news release in April from the group Citizens for a Sustainable Sioux Falls . The release announced a letter sent to Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken and the city council requesting a pause in Wholestone Farms plans to build a processing plant near the intersection of interstates 229 and 90. That letter included a list of 57 businesses and organizations that supported the request.

On that list was Bluestem Capital, the private equity firm that Kirby launched with Paul Schock in 1996.

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Construction at the site of the Wholestone Farms pork processing plant at Interstate 229 and Benson Road in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Patrick Lalley / Forum News Service

Schock is also quoted in the Citizens for a Sustainable Sioux Falls release. Today, he’s the co-founder and head of strategy for Bird Dog Equity Partners.

“Businesses in Sioux Falls are already struggling to find enough workers, partly because we don’t have enough affordable housing for working families,” Schock said in the release. “A sprawling new hog-processing plant would only add to the economic pressures facing local employers and residents.”

Schock did not return messages requesting comment on Thursday.

The third resident quoted was Matt Marnach, president and CEO of Dakota Performance Solutions.

“If the goal is to promote economic growth and development, then we need to attract high- skilled, high-wage jobs,” Marnach said in the release. “Unfortunately, a massive hog-slaughtering complex could do far more harm than good for our economic future.”

Marnach did not respond to an interview request on Thursday.

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Earlier this week, The Special Olympics South Dakota, one of the original groups listed on the letter to the city, confirmed they no longer support the ban on slaughterhouses.

"I screwed up," the organization's president says. Sioux Falls residents will vote in November on new slaughterhouses in the city. Wholestone officials believe the ballot question won't stop their plans to build new plant.

Robert Peterson, treasurer for Smart Growth Sioux Falls, the ballot committee that gathered signatures to put it to a public vote, said his group doesn’t fault anyone who steps away.

“I totally understand that Steve (Kirby) has his reasons, and I respect that,” Peterson said.

“It doesn’t change the fact that we have a broad coalition of supporters. It’s never been about one person, one organization or one business,” he said. “It continues to grow so that while yes, we can understand folks who might want to take a step back, there is also value in the story that the coalition continues to grow as well and that’s evidenced by more than 10,000 citizens signing a petition advancing this to the ballot.”

Luke Minion, chairman of the board of Wholestone Farms, declined to address Kirby’s position directly, saying that in the education process residents often see the value of a processing plant with local owners.

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Construction at the site of the Wholestone Farms pork processing plant at Interstate 229 and Benson Road in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Patrick Lalley / Forum News Service

Wholestone is a farmer-owned cooperative with about 200 members, including about 75 within 50 miles of Sioux Falls. The company purchased an existing plant in Fremont, Nebraska, in 2018 with plans for expansion. Opponents to the northeast Sioux Falls location express concerns about potential odor, traffic, housing for 1,000 workers and pollution of the Big Sioux River.

The image that is burned into resident’s minds is the 111-year-old Smithfield pork plant near Falls Park.

“Sioux Falls residents have limited exposure to existing pork processing facilities that are much different than what Wholestone Farms will be,” Minion said. “I encourage my fellow Sioux Falls residents to learn more about Wholestone before forming their opinion.”

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In November, Sioux Falls voters will decide whether to change city ordinances to ban any future slaughterhouses in the city limits.

Minion previously said that Wholestone believes that the vote does not affect their plans. They’ve begun construction at the site for a speciality butchery. Having an existing business processing pork, though not the six million a year that are planned, would grandfather the larger plant under the existing ordinances, he said.

MORE FROM PATRICK LALLEY:
Opponents of the ban focused attention on involvement of POET's leader, Jeff Broin. Shift in message personalized the outcome of the vote.

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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