WORTHINGTON — Representatives of JBS and the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors gathered Monday morning for a groundbreaking ceremony for the new JBS freezer warehouse facility.

The Worthington City Council approved a conditional use permit for the facility last week, and the company isn’t wasting much time in getting started on its new addition. Project Ice is planned at 186,083 square feet, with an option to add an 84,683-square-foot warehouse addition at a later date.

“This is important, and it’s something we’ve wanted for a long time,” said Brad Hellenga, general manager at the JBS Worthington plant, shortly after Monday’s event. “It’s a great feeling to see this happening, and a great feeling to know this plant is expanding. I think it will help us have a great future here.”

Company officials say the new freezer warehouse could create approximately 70 new jobs ranging from $17.05 to $21.30 per hour, plus benefits. The facility could store up to 25 million pounds of frozen product and 2.5 million pounds of fresh product, increasing the plant’s overall production capacity. The JBS pork production plant is Worthington’s largest employer, as it currently has more than 2,000 team members and processes 20,000 hogs per day.

“Once this is complete, this will give us a lot of room that we currently don’t have,” said Hellenga, adding that a majority of the plant’s freezing of product will eventually be done here, as opposed to scattered locations across the country. “It’s going to free up space for us to do a lot of things.”

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Tippman Group, which has built more than 17 million square feet of temperature-controlled warehousing and processing facilities during its 50 years in business, is constructing the JBS freezer warehouse.

Hellenga said the goal upon getting the required CUP from the city was to begin work as soon as possible in order to get the building closed up by the onset of winter. Pouring of concrete could then take place during the cold-weather months, with the plant ready to begin operation by June 1.

“This is going to be great for us and great for the community,” added Jeff Buysman, an engineer at JBS, Monday morning. “Just having the ability to keep this business expansion is big for us and our employees. It shows our support for the community and for our workers by giving them additional security in their jobs.”

The groundbreaking for the new buildings comes not along after JBS announced its plans to donate a total of $2.6 million to the city of Worthington to help the community respond to needs resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and invest in the city’s future. The donation is a product of the company’s Hometown Strong initiative.