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Tyson Fresh Meats, which operates a meatpacking plant originally opened as IBP inc. in the northeast industrial area in 1990, has a $16.4 million assessed value.

WATERLOO | The company's founder, John W. Tyson, would hardly recognize what he started.

Tyson established the company after moving his family in 1931 to Springdale, Ark. Before long, he was delivering chickens throughout the Midwest.

That foundation now supports one of the largest meat-processing enterprises on the planet.

A snapshot, according to the company's website, shows just how far Tyson's vision expanded in the past 82 years:

  • Sales in 2013: $33.3 billion, with 14 percent from pork products like those made in Waterloo.
  • Weekly intake: 41.4 million chickens, 403,000 hogs and 132,000 cattle.
  • Average weekly production: 41 million pounds of meat.
  • 97,000 employees in the U.S., including 14,125 in Iowa or on its borders.
  • Customers in 130 countries.

To achieve those numbers, Tyson relies on 60 chicken processing plants, 23 for processed food, 12 for beef and nine for pork, including one in Waterloo. A pet products facility is near Independence in Buchanan County.

In the end, Tyson as the company exists today processes 1 of every 5 pounds of meat in the U.S.

That's big picture. Steve Dust, CEO of the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber, offers a local perspective on what Tyson Fresh Meats means for the Cedar Valley and Iowa.

"They just add a good deal to our economy. Tyson is a big employer that has invested heavily in us and their people," he said.

Dan Fogleman, a native of Ottumwa, is senior public relations manager for Tyson in Arkansas. He can put a more specific number on Dust's observation. 

"In the most recent fiscal year, we spent $3.3 billion with Iowa farmers who raise livestock out of $15.4 billion total," Fogleman said.

Beyond the financial impact, Dust sees intangibles that also pay dividends for the community at large.

"No. 1, their workforce is not only large but is very diverse," he says. "Most people would be pleasantly surprised how Tyson has put in programs to celebrate everyone in that environment. The company spends a lot of time and money making everyone fell welcome and engaged."

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Tyson Fresh Meats also has elevated industry standards, according to Dust.

"There are more high-quality jobs available than many people would give them credit, especially if someone is starting from the memory of when that plant was IBP," Dust says. "This is a quality operation The difference is huge and stark."

The required skill level also has gone up, according to Dust, and the company expects more and is training to higher planes.

"People are climbing the ladder higher on the skills level than in times gone by in that industry," he adds.

Dust sees bright days continuing given Tyson's track record.

"That's absolutely good to see that kind of growth in their markets and their investment in people and technology," Dust says.

Donnie Smith, CEO of Tyson Foods, in May offered the commencement address to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville School of Agriculture. During his speech, available on Tyson's website, he noted the graduates' challenge of producing ever more food.

A frequent question, Smith said, is what keeps a CEO up at night?

“How can we responsibly increase our food production and simultaneously educate the public on the benefits and the necessity of modern agriculture to get the job done," Smith asked the graduates, "when the population is now a couple of generations off the farm and really doesn’t understand how food’s made? They don’t understand the huge task that we’ve just learned about in feeding a growing population, and they’re becoming increasingly resistant to using the safe, efficient and responsible technologies that we’ve developed over the years.”

Smith described the prospect as a "daunting task" but "a great opportunity and awesome responsibility."

"The truth is, those of us who make food, we've got an opportunity to make the world a better place," Smith added, encouraging the graduates to "lead with a conscience."

Tyson's core values and six-word purpose statement offer an example, Smith said: "Making great food. Making a difference."

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