The former Birds Eye plant in Fulton is officially the home of a Pakistan-based poultry processing company which hopes to begin manufacturing products in the next couple of months.
K&N's Foods USA bought the vacant building last January, and in less than a year invested more than $5 million into the building's purchase and renovation to get it up and running. Adil Sattar, chief executive with K&N's Foods USA, says although the company isn't producing anything just yet, it is already an employer.
"The people, the county here, the state, they're all very supportive of the project because of the jobs," Sattar said. "We are not even in production yet and we're already employing 43 people. And the former occupant and owner of this facility was Birds Eye. Over 35 percent of the people we are employing are from Birds Eye, as a matter of fact."
Sattar says they plan to put 183 people in and around the Fulton area back to work within three years of starting operations. Mayor Ron Woodward says by choosing to locate here, the company, which is operating under a brand license from K&N's Foods Limited in Pakistan, is providing the residents with not only jobs, but a chance to turn the city's financial situation around a little bit.
"The former employees, you know they all had families and they all had financial obligations," Woodward said. "They all had skills in manufacturing, which fit in here or can be applied to here. I think that the blow that this city has suffered through with Nestle closing and Birds Eye, I think for them to at least consider former employees is very encouraging."
Woodward also says the company is bringing morale back to the city.
"You know, jobs are a big thing, and confidence in the community is another thing," Woodward said. "The other thing is, a facility of this size, the fact that it's occupied and it's used, it will remain maintained. If you look around the state, there are just too many empty factories that are in decay because of neglect."
Mike Treadwell, executive director of Operation Oswego County, a non-profit economic development group, says there were other offers on the table for the empty building, some higher than K&N's Foods.
"There was a number of companies that expressed significant interest in the facility, and we had ongoing discussions with several companies," Treadwell said. "Most of them, however, was more oriented toward warehousing and not manufacturing. I give credit to Pyramid Brokerage for working with us on this, and Pinnacle Foods, who owned the facility. They did have offers for the purchase price... and Pinnacle Foods, they were very helpful in wanting to see the reuse of this facility for the best interest of the community."
The Fulton plant is the Pakistan-based company's first facility in the U.S. Once the plant receives approval from the USDA, which they believe could happen in a couple of months, it will begin making Halal chicken products like nuggets, sausages and cold cuts. Sattar says the company plans to sell its food to specialty stores, supermarkets and food service companies in the U.S., Canada and Europe, citing a dearth of options currently available in those places.
Khalil Sattar, who started K&N's Foods in 1964 while he was in college, says the need to serve those markets is one factor the company considered when choosing Fulton over other areas, like Buffalo.
"There's a demand within the country, there's a demand beyond the U.S. and even in the E.U.," Sattar said. "So we thought that we would be able to meet the requirements of Halal chicken products of the consumers in the U.S. and across Canada, and hopefully in the E.U. It was a good opportunity. It's close proximity to the population we are aiming for. We've got Canada just across."
Adir Sattar added that the Fulton plant also provided other benefits for K&N's Foods USA.
"We do frozen products, this facility has refrigerated warehouses," Sattar said. "Being here brings us closer to the target market. Canada is across the border. You're near a shipping port, New York/New Jersey. So, if you can create a market abroad form here, it makes logistics also very viable."
Woodward remained tight lipped when asked about other vacant buildings in Fulton, including the former Nestle plant, but says he has been assured of some retail contracts that may become available once the private developer there is done.