Hilmar Cheese groundbreaking signifies expansion of dairy industry

Gold-colored shovels turned the soil Sept. 30 with a backdrop banner with a rendering of the what the Hilmar Cheese plant will look like when fully operational on the south edge of Dodge City, Kansas.

As company officials, federal, state and local officials offered remarks the 160-acre site is already under development as scrapers were seen preparing area for construction and infrastructure needed to put $600 million plant that will initially create 250 full-time jobs. Gov. Laura Kelly said the project is expected to bring an additional $500 million in capital investment and an additional 750 jobs within the Dodge City area by the time the plant opens in a couple of years.

Hilmar has plants in operation in Hilmar, California, and Dalhart, Texas. Company CEO and President David Ahlem said when the decision was made to develop a third plant Dodge City “rose to the cream of the crop.” The region’s commitment to workforce, transportation and agriculture made it stand out. Also, the company found many community, county, state and federal partners who were eager to succeed. “We chose Dodge City and Dodge City chose us.”

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said the Hilmar plant will have a high impact for Kansas and southwest Kansas. His role, he said, at times was to make sure the project did not run into hurdles at the federal level and to make sure monies could help, as he knows that housing, child care and workforce training were all the top of the list of crucial infrastructure needs.

An appropriations bill provided $500,000 to Dodge City Community College to help with workforce development specifically tied to the Hilmar plant.

“We will do everything we can to make sure the company is successful,” Moran said. “Hilmar is a benefit to all Kansans.”

The company is going to work with regional dairy producers to provide an outlet for them and at the same time set a standard for environmental sustainability, he said, adding that he expects the company to continue to grow.

Jim Ahlem, chairman of the board of directors, said Dodge City and the surrounding area offers the best in people with high values. Kansas dairy producers were welcoming of Hilmar Cheese and that relationship will be beneficial.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly called the Hilmar Cheese plant a “landscape changing project” and “massively important” not only to Dodge City and southwest Kansas but to the entire state.

“Southwest Kansas is a great place to do business,” she said.

She also thanked Lt. Gov. David Toland, who is also the state’s commerce secretary, for his tireless work with all the parties involved to make the project successful.

Others speakers included Mayor Kent Smoll and Ford County Commissioner Chris Boys. Hilmar executives thanked staffs of those representatives and at the state level for their many hours to make the project a reality.

As Ahlem announced after the public comments to tell people that it was time to move toward the groundbreaking he had the quip of the day: “Do you know what time it is? It is time to get the heck into Dodge.”

Hilmar Cheese’s routes date back to 1984 when a group of Jersey dairymen from California wanted to have work together to develop a market. Ahlem credited them as the innovators and risk takers to put Hilmar to where it is today. Hilmar products—cheese, whey and lactose—are found throughout the United States and more than 50 countries.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].