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Letter: Willmar is at a crossroads

 A Jennie-O (Turkey Store)/Hormel expansion fueled by tax dollars should spark a healthy public discussion of Willmar’s future.

Supporters urge that what’s good for Hormel is good for Willmar.

Look at the history.

Hormel Foods purchased Jennie-O for $85 million in 1986, and The Turkey Store for $330 million in 2001. By 2005, turkey became Hormel’s biggest moneymaker, leading to its first-ever two-for-one stock split in 2010.

By 2012, Jennie-O Turkey Store was worth $2.5 billion.

Over those 26 years — to paraphrase Ronald Reagan — did Willmar become better off, or worse off?

Jennie-O provides unskilled entry employment to Willmar’s newest entrants, those with limited job skills and English-speaking; the story of America’s evolution. However, our new American economy values highly trained employees in knowledge-based enterprises like high-tech manufacturing and finance. Faced with few job prospects outside of meatpacking, unskilled health care, government, and retail, our children’s limited options force them to leave town.

We allow this to continue at our city’s peril.

We are at a crossroads, folks. Willmar could well become a predominantly unskilled, underpaid, under-employed working poor, with limited opportunities to join America’s middle class, run by a few fat cats.

Here’s an alternative scenario worth considering:

Thirty years ago, many South Dakotans decided, in order to be competitive, its largest meatpacking city had to diversify to meet the new economy head-on. The critics scoffed. Today, Sioux Falls is the headquarters site of back office credit card operations for most major banks in the United States.

If the spectacular growth of Jennie-O/Hormel did not bring with it similar prosperity for Willmarites who are not stockholders, why would we expect another expansion of Jennie-O to produce anything different?

Adding insult to injury, while a public hearing on the issue is scheduled for April 7, the city attorney has submitted the purchase agreement at the City Council’s request, and the Community Development Committee unanimously approved it last week.

Kandiyohi County is America’s No. 1 turkey producer, the Silicon Valley of the turkey industry. That’s what keeps Hormel here; not public welfare.

Robert Enos