TREMONTON — The old La-Z-Boy facility in Tremonton has been empty since 2008. But when a company recently expressed interest to move into the vacant building, many residents said, "No way."
A pig-processing company was ready to move into the empty building, but many residents don’t want it — even though it would mean hundreds of jobs in an area hit hard by the downturn in the economy, said Mitch Zundel, the economic development director for Box Elder County.
"Legitimately, the people have a concern, and if they don't want it, it's hard. You can't force a business onto the people,” Zundel said.
Such a plant would provide 200 jobs and up to 1,000 additional support jobs that could provide an economic boost of $190 million to the area, the Box Elder Economic Development Alliance estimated.
But Tremonton City Councilman Lyle Holmgren said residents were concerned about what the plant would mean for their community. “They felt like it was going to smell and smell a lot,” Holmgren said. “I don’t think so.”
The name of the company is being kept under wraps at the company's request. The plant is referred to as "Project Sam." Holmgren was part of a small group of city leaders that went to the company's other plant in California on Feb. 20 to see it for themselves. The smell there wasn't that bad, he said.
However, at a City Council meeting Tuesday when the group discussed its California visit, the number of residents who showed up to speak against Project Sam was so overwhelming, he decided against it, even though Tremonton needs jobs.
“We’ve lost thousands of jobs in Box Elder County since 2008,” Holmgren said.
Since then, 630 jobs were lost when La-Z-Boy left; ATK cut close to 2,200 jobs; another 250 were lost when Autoliv had some cutbacks. Those are just three examples.
“We want to see jobs,” Zundel said. “We want to see people employed.”
Tremonton's mayor said the pig-processing plant would have provided roughly 200 jobs.
"I don't exactly remember what the starting wage was, but it's not getting rich," Tremonton Mayor Roger Fridal said. “But there is a significant amount of our population that needs jobs, plain and simple."
Project Sam was projected to bring 200 jobs with an average salary of $35,000, which would put about $7 million into the local economy, according to the Box Elder Economic Development Alliance. Its website said the plant would provide an additional 500 to 1,000 jobs in "additional support industry" with an estimated economic impact of $190 million to the area.
"Their plan is to add millions of dollars to the facility to get it back up to par and be a great community-involved company," the alliance said of Project Sam.
Tremonton resident Leonard Tyner said there are few jobs for younger residents in the area. He was originally against the plant.
“I wasn’t sure about it at first like everybody else,” Tyner said. “I thought, ‘Oh, a pig plant, they stink.’”
But he said after thinking about it, he changed his mind. “There’s more and more job losses up here every year, every month,” he said.
While nothing official had been proposed for the Tremonton City Council to vote on, city officials decided not to move forward with the plant's offer. Tremonton’s mayor admits the pig plant probably isn’t the best fit for his town.
“I think it’s an emotional reaction to having a pig slaughterhouse that is in such close proximity to houses,” Fridal said. “Smell is what everybody seemed to be concerned about. Just the idea of having a slaughterhouse in town turned people off.”
But he also said no business is perfect.
“Is this a perfect way to have growth? It isn’t,” Fridal said. “But is it growth and would it have benefited the community? I think perhaps it could have.”
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc