New player shifts dynamic in slaughterhouse debate in Sioux Falls
Group backing Wholestone Farms' efforts to build pork processing plant plans to commit "resources" to the campaign. Sioux Falls Open for Business filed paperwork this week that allows them to spend money leading up to the November election. The group is supported by 16 agriculture and business organizations.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A new group joined the debate over animal processing plants in Sioux Falls this week, potentially changing the financial dynamics of the citywide election in November.
Sioux Falls Open for Business filed paperwork with the city clerk’s office on Tuesday, Sept. 20, creating a ballot question committee. The group represents a collection of agriculture and business interests from Sioux Falls and the region, several of which have already stated their opposition to a proposed ban on new slaughterhouses in the city.
The significance of the filing isn’t the individual members’ opposition to the ban, rather their ability to spend money in support of that position.
“We have a campaign and marketing strategy to get the truth out about what this vote really is and why it's important to have locally sourced food in South Dakota,” said Christine Erickson, a former city councilor who is chairperson for Sioux Falls Open for Business.
That puts the Open for Business committee on equal status with Smart Growth Sioux Falls, the group backing the ban, which reported raising nearly $100,000 as of Aug. 31.
Erickson declined to estimate how much money the group may commit to the campaign. The new organization is a “grassroots” effort to share what the vote means for the city and implications of a potential ban, she said.
While that means they will be spreading out to communicate with civic and service organizations, and other retail campaign activities, they also know it will take money, Erickson said.
“We recognize that it will take resources to get our message out to the voters and we are prepared to get that message out,” she said.
The committee has hired Lawrence & Schiller, a prominent Sioux Falls advertising and marketing firm with a long history of political work in the state.
The ballot question was spurred by the plans by Wholestone Farms to build a pork plant in northeast Sioux Falls that could process up to 6 million pigs per year. Those plans have been in the works for about 5 years and were largely under the public’s radar.
Last summer Citizens for a Sustainable Sioux Falls gathered 10,000 signatures asking voters to ban future slaughterhouses within city limits. The city vote will be held in conjunction with the broader midterm elections on Nov. 8.
Smart Growth Sioux Falls is the ballot committee created in support of that ban. Another slaughterhouse no longer fits the kind of economic development the city wants or needs, they contend. They point to the accompanying traffic, odor and threats to water quality.
“Protecting our homes, businesses, and natural resources from the harmful effects these mega-slaughterhouses are known to bring is vital to a strong economic future for Sioux Falls,” said Robert Peterson, treasurer for the group. “Do we want to continue to grow as a regional hub for technology, education, and recreation? Or do we want to become 'Slaughterhouse Falls'? That is what voters will decide in November.”
Smart Growth is financially supported by biofuels producer POET, which has corporate offices about a mile northwest of the Wholestone site, as well as a handful of other organizations.
POET founder and CEO Jeff Broin also owns a home and gated housing development about a mile southeast of the site.
The question of animal processing in the city limits puts POET in conflict with agriculture and commodity groups who see the Wholestone plant as an additional market for their products.
It’s a sub point, though an important one, in the overall discussion, Erickson said.
“It’s unfortunate that someone who has made a fortune in the agriculture industry is now opposed to a project just because it's near his large home,” she said.
Erickson left the Sioux Falls City Council in June after serving the maximum two terms. She is the president of the South Dakota Trucking Association, one of the 16 organizations backing Open for Business.
Wholestone has done everything the right way in planning the plant, she said, only to face a “last ditch” effort on the ballot.
“What this says is, ‘Hey, come to South Dakota, we’re open for business, but only if we like your industry.’ That’s not how we do business in South Dakota.”
Gov. Kristi Noem recently expressed a similar concern, saying the idea of an initiated measure is a detriment to attracting new business to the state.
Smithfield Foods operates a plant near downtown Sioux Falls that first started slaughtering operations in 1911. Today that expanded plant processes about 18 million pigs per year.
It’s that image of an aging plant, with a history of odor and water quality violations, that Wholestone backers are fighting against. The new plant, they say, will use the latest technology for odor mitigation and includes a stand-alone wastewater treatment plant.
Still, the legacy of the Smithfield plant is pervasive in any discussion about Wholestone.
“We know we have an uphill battle,” Erickson said. “We are confident in getting a positive message out, and the truth out, to voters in Sioux Falls.”