Valley Queen cheese begins $195 million expansion
MILBANK, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Over the next three years, Valley Queen in Milbank is investing $195 million in their largest expansion ever.
The company was founded 93 years ago by two Swiss immigrants who stopped in Milbank for fuel.
Now, it will not only be expanding their Milbank location, but they will also be constructing a distribution center in western Wisconsin.
”We’re picking a location that’s exactly between cheese manufacturing in Milbank and some of our customers in Wisconsin and even further south,” said CEO Doug Wilke.
The expansion will increase cheese production capacity by 125 million pounds. It will also create 140 new jobs, which Valley Queen is already working to fill in a tight labor market.
”We’ve had a pretty extensive recruiting strategy, because the labor market is really tough right now. So, it will be local people. We’re going to recruit heavy locally, but we also know we have to branch out into other areas to attract employees,” said Wilke.
In addition to more employees, there will also be more cows. Valley Queen plans to add 30,000 dairy cows to new and existing herds.
”We’ll be building three new dairies within fifty miles of Milbank. These dairies will be six-to-eight-thousand cows each. In addition to the new dairies being built, our dairymen that already supply us milk have told us they’d like to expand,” said Vice President of Sales and Procurement Jason Mischel.
Nationwide, the number of milk cows was down in the last year. In South Dakota, that number was up 16% according to Valley Queen. In the last five years, South Dakota has grown from 117,00 milk cows to 177,000.
Mischel says the expansion is possible because of the scale of agriculture production dairy has reached. Thirty years ago, Mischel says Valley Queen had 500 dairy farmers. Now, they have 40.
“But, those 40 dairy men supply us about four times as much milk as the 500 dairy men did. The fact that we are growing by 60%, but only adding three new dairies, tells you about the scale that is happening,” said Mischel.
The expansion is expected to be completed by January of 2025, and is projected to create over $1 billion worth of annual economic impact within 80 miles of Milbank.
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