I live in the rural NW Ohio county of Defiance. I was born in nearby Williams County and I consider NW Ohio home. When I moved away from NW Ohio as a nineteen year old boy, I has no intentions of ever coming back. Yet, come back I did, several times over the years, finally landing here permanently in 1995. (with short stints in Michigan and Arizona)
I live in the village of Ney, population 354. Ney has one stoplight, two bars/restaurants, and a gas station/convenience store. There is little crime, everyone knows your business, and Ney offers everything people love and hate about life in small town rural Ohio.
This is my home. What goes on here matters to me. Our way of life matters to me. My children live here and my grandchildren attend various public schools in the area. It is to this area that my Hungarian grandparents immigrated almost a hundred years ago.
Years ago, manufacturing provided good jobs for locals, allowing them to have a middle-class lifestyle. Over the past thirty years, countless factories have closed their doors. I say countless, because I could count them and give their names if I so desired. Gone are the good wages and benefits. The factories that remain struggle to make a profit and pay their workers good wages. Thanks to the various global trade agreements, manufacturing hubs like rural NW Ohio have been savaged, and workers bear the brunt of the savagery.I often wonder what will become of us once amoral free market fundamentalism has finished her work?
New to the scene, is a farm-oriented business, confined animal feeding operations, AKA factory farms. Most of these factory farms are owned by major corporations with no roots in the local community. Their business model is quite simple. Concentrate as many animals in a building as the law will allow and make as much money as possible from the animals who are kept in crates or pens. (many of them never seeing the outside, never experiencing what non-factory farm animals experience)
As an environmentalist, I think that factory farms are immoral and their practices are barbaric. With every factory farm comes environmental concerns. These farms need a tremendous amount of water and generate a mountain of manure that is either put in a lagoon or sprayed on local farm fields. Years ago, when I was opposing a factory farm in far NW Ohio, a woman for the Ohio EPA told me that there was a real problem with how these farms and local farmers were handling the spraying of manure. While manure is certainly good for the ground, too much of it was ending up in run off into local ditches and creeks.
Defiance County commissioners approved a tax abatement and several other matters related to the construction of a large egg production facility near Hicksville during their Thursday meeting.
Hillandale Farms Ohio, LLC, is building the facility for egg production, egg processing and packaging, truck maintenance and feed production at 09715 Rosedale Road, east of Hicksville, and plans to invest $41 million. The project includes eight production barns, water wells, manure waste handling and storage facilities and a waste lagoon.
Who is Hillandale Farms? According to their website:
Hillandale Farms is one of the nations leading supplier of shell eggs.With production facilities in the northeast, midwest and southeast, Hillandale Farms supplies retailers and distributors throughout the eastern half of the United States.
As a vertically integrated supplier, Hillandale Farms is directly involved in every aspect of egg production and distribution. From the farm to the customer’s forklift, Hillandale Farms is actively involved in satisfying their customers needs.
Specializing in corporate brands, Hillandale Farms offers services in category management, supply chain management and product development. Working closely with our customers to create world class egg programs tailored to their specific needs is a core competency.
Hillandale Farms has a wide offering of butter, cheese and meats to complement their offering of eggs.
For quality eggs and programs tailored to meet the needs of customers, look no further than Hillandale Farms.
I did a quick Google search for Hillandale Farms and I found that Hillandale Farms has found themselves in a bit of hot water over a suspect salmonella outbreak at one of their factory farms in Iowa. Grist has an article detailing the connection between Hillandale Farms and Jack DeCoster, a man Grist describes as a habitual violator of the law. (see Fox News story and a recent Global Gazette story) I found enough information that should have been a red flag for anyone who cares about rural NW Ohio.
All of this information was readily available to the Defiance County Commissioners, yet they ignored it and rolled out the red carpet for Hillandale Farms. It is one thing for a corporation to legally build a factory farm. It is another thing to give them buckets of tax dollars to do so.
Here is a list of what the Defiance County Commissioners gave Hillandale Farms:
- 60 percent tax exemption for real property improvements for 10 years (which directly reduces the tax money going to local schools)
- Defiance County will construct one mile of improvements on Rosedale Road, and provide 50,000.00 in community development block grant (CDBG) funds, as well as 214,000.00 in Ohio Department of Transportation jobs and commerce funds
- Defiance County will provide 440,000.00 in CDBG funds to support the construction of 2.85 miles of a four-inch gas main to be extended by Ohio Gas Company to the project site.
- The commissioners approved a contract with Tenmile Creek Excavating, LLC,
for cement stabilization work on Rosedale Road (no contract cost given in news report)
- The commissioners approved a contract to Brooks Construction Company to pave Rosedale Road
As readers know, I am opposed to ALL tax abatements and I do not think tax money should be used to make infrastructure improvements as an enticement for companies like Hillandale to locate here. Private corporations should pay their own freight.
Defiance County Commissioners will defend their actions by saying…Hillandale is going to hire 65 full-time workers. We NEED jobs in this area! Didn’t you see that General Motors just laid off 135 workers at their Defiance plant? Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Exactly what kind of jobs will Hillandale Farms provide?
According to the numbers in the Crescent-News, Hillandale expects to have 65 full-time workers and an annual payroll of 1,668,144.00. Based on a 40 hour workweek and everyone making the same wage, the wage will be 12.50 per hour. Since there will be managers, supervisors, and office people making more money that 12.50 an hour, it is likely that the real wage for most of the workers will be substantially south of 12.50 an hour.
Corporations know places like Defiance County are desperate for jobs. They blow into town and promise the world but rarely deliver on the job promises. They wildly inflate hiring and payroll numbers, giving local government officials the impression that their business locating here will have a huge impact on the local economy.
This happens over and over. It was not that long ago the Ruralogic extracted millions of dollars in tax abatements and incentives from local governments. Their business plan? IT jobs. When I read the reports about Ruralogic’s business plan, I said, this is not going to work. Sure enough it didn’t. Yes, Ruralogic is still in business, but they are currently on life support.
According to an April 19, 2013 story in the Crescent-News, Ruralogic promised and local governments gave:
Ruralogic received several incentives when it opened in northwest Ohio. In 2010, the Ohio Department of Development awarded a 60 percent Job Creation Tax Credit for eight years for the firm’s locations in Bryan, Napoleon and Archbold. The value of the tax credit is approximately $707,700 at each location, and the company is required to maintain operations at the sites for 11 years. At that time the company stated it expected to create 353 jobs (121 at each office in Bryan, Napoleon and Archbold).
Sounds eerily similar to the Hillandale Farms give-a-way doesn’t it? Ruralogic promised the moon and so far has only delivered a handful of jobs. (read this Archbold Buckeye report for more information about Ruralogic)
Years ago, my three oldest sons worked at a chicken egg factory farm near West Unity, Ohio.It was a small operation compared to the giant facilities that dot the landscape of rural NW Ohio and rural SE Michigan.
I picked up the boys from work numerous times, so I was able to see what went on inside the barns. This was at a time when I had not yet come to the conclusion that factory farms were immoral and environmentally unsafe.
The chickens were kept in small wire cages with just enough room to barely turn around. The barns were dark, dank, and reeked of ammonia. No one wanted to inhale the air in the barns. (and one of my sons actually got some sort of skin infection from working there) Many of the eggs went to a local egg company that sold eggs to McDonald’s.
My first experience with a factory farm fundamentally changed how I viewed such facilities. Rarely do outsiders get the opportunity to tour a factory farm. The corporations that own these facilities know that if consumers actually saw where their milk, eggs, beef, and pork came from, they would likely be sickened and stop eating the “products” they provide.
To some degree, I remain a hypocrite. Due to having a limited income, we can not afford to always buy our meat and eggs from non-factory farms. We do what we can, realizing that the real fix is to regulate factory farms out of existence. It would help if local government officials would stop handing corporations money, but as long as corporations continue to make wild promises of economic growth, I doubt the money give-a-ways will stop.
I pity the people who live to the east of Hillandale Farms latest factory farm in Hicksville. On a warm summer day, with the wind blowing out of the west, they will get “enjoy” the smell emanating from the Hillandale Farms barns and the nearby manure lagoon. I wonder if they will think that this is what progress smells like?