OCHEYEDAN—Gov. Kim Reynolds toured the Cooperative Farmers Elevator feed mill in Ocheyedan Tuesday, Aug. 6, and discussed rural workforce and education needs with CFE leadership.
Reynolds and Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg visited the Osceola County community after stopping by the Prairie Heritage Center near Sutherland earlier in the day as part of the governor’s annual 99-county tour.
When they arrived in Ocheyedan, Reynolds and Gregg first met with CFE’s senior leadership staff in the administrative office before taking a tour of the $26 million feed mill.
They were joined by members of the Osceola County Board of Supervisors and Economic Development Commission.
Steve Petersen, the company’s vice president of feed, said one of the main reasons the company decided build the feed mill in Ocheyedan was its proximity to counties it delivers feed to such as Lyon, O’Brien and Osceola.
Construction began on the feed mill in May 2017 and it became operational in February. Petersen said adverse weather was a hindrance during the construction process but added that the construction company CFE contracted — Younglove Construction of Sioux City — worked through it well.
The feed mill created 19 new jobs and retained 10 jobs with CFE. It produces about 3,000 tons of feed a day or about 780,000 tons a year. Petersen said CFE has 60 additional mills in operation elsewhere.
The company has facilities for feed, lumber, grain and agronomy across N’West Iowa, southwest Minnesota and southeast South Dakota.
When Reynolds asked whether CFE has any workforce needs, the company’s chief executive officer, Rob Jacobs, said one of the main challenges is an aging workforce.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of people that are in the upper 50s to lower 60s today, and we’re going to find people to replace them,” Jacobs said.
To do so, Jacobs said companies like CFE increasingly rely on technical job training programs at Iowa community colleges to attract and retain younger workers.
“Our junior colleges, the programs associated with the JC schools are what we can utilize here,” he said. “Just getting an education and what that is, what opportunities there are to work for our company, is really important. Not everybody is cut out to be a four-year student, you know.”
On the topic of education and workforce readiness, Reynolds spoke of recently launched programs such as Future Ready Iowa that are intended to connect Iowans to job training and education opportunities.
One aspect of the program she focused on was a job-training program for high schoolers, where students can receive hands-on job experience with a business while still in school. By their junior year, Reynolds said the students go to school for half the day and work at the company the other half.
After the students graduate from high school, Reynolds said they are making upward of $40,000 and often have earned an associate degree.
“It is keeping our young people here, and it works for nursing, it works for computer science, it works for welding, construction, whatever, it’s that adaptable,” she said.
Jacobs pointed out how Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon offers a job training program with Interstates, a Sioux Center-based electrical engineering and construction company, which parallels the aims of the Future Ready Iowa program.
During the tour of the feed mill, Jacobs and Petersen took Reynolds and Gregg through multiple levels of the facility, briefly explaining the functions of each area and introducing them to employees.
After the tour, Reynolds commented positively on the innovation and technology employed at the mill and how it is evidence of employment opportunities for young people in the state.
“That’s another thing that we could share with our young people that, you know, these are just another great opportunity for a great career and right here local,” she said.
“It’s the same thing I hear with businesses as we travel the state, the need for workforce.”