HERMISTON — More french fries than ever will come out of Hermiston after Lamb Weston cut the ribbon on a $250 million expansion of its processing plant.
The 300,000-square-foot expansion increases the facility’s capacity and adds 150 full-time jobs to what was already Hermiston’s largest employer.
Chief Executive Officer Tom Werner told the audience at Thursday’s celebration that the facility was a very important part of Lamb Weston’s operations around the world, and represented one of many investments the company is making toward its future.
“It’s an exciting time to be with Lamb Weston,” he said.
According to a news release, the company is the “leading global supplier of frozen French fries and other potato products to restaurant customers around the world.” It employs more than 7,000 people at 25 manufacturing facilities in North America, China and Europe. At the Hermiston plant, 570 employees make approximately 750 million pounds of potato products per year. Other Hermiston residents commute to the company’s Boardman or Tri-Cities sites.
Rick Martin, chief supply chain officer for Lamb Weston, told the East Oregonian that the company looked at a mix of factors, including the availability of raw product and the labor market, when choosing Hermiston for its expansion. Potato growers in the area, who partner with Lamb Weston, played a big role.
“We get some of the best-quality products from the Columbia Basin,” he said.
Those potatoes get turned into frozen french fries, tater tots and other products before being shipped worldwide for sale at restaurants and grocery stores.
Martin said the 18-month construction process went smoothly and wrapped up on time despite the challenging winter weather during February.
“It’s a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility that incorporates everything we’ve learned about producing french fries in the past 50 years,” he said.
The expansion just outside of Hermiston city limits won’t be added to the city’s property tax rolls in a traditional sense, but Lamb Weston is part of a long-term rural enterprise zone agreement with Umatilla County. As part of that agreement the company won’t pay property taxes on the expansion for 15 years, but in exchange it will pay $1 million per year to be split between the county and the city. As part of the deal, all of the new jobs added must meet or exceed Umatilla County’s average wage, which is currently about $18 per hour.
Hermiston city manager Byron Smith and several city councilors were present at Thursday’s event.
“We’re just really excited to see this open, and the employment it opens up,” Smith said.
Lamb Weston has a long history of employing Hermiston residents after opening there in 1972. Leslie Winker, who works in the Hermiston plant in the continuous skills and development department, has been working there since it opened. She met her husband there and now her son works there too. Before helping to cut the ribbon on the new line Thursday, she said between the three of them they had 110 years of experience at Lamb Weston.