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Fillmore gets cheese plant

New packaging facility will create 175 jobs

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A cheese manufacturer based in Hiram, Ohio, has agreed to build a packaging plant in Fillmore that will create 175 jobs over the next five years, the Utah Division of Business and Economic Development said Thursday.

Great Lakes Cheese Co. makes a variety of cheese products in five plants across the United States and employs more than 1,000 people. It makes bulk cheese, private label products and a variety of other food service items.

In 1998 it won a second place award in the World Championship Cheese Contest.

The division said the Fillmore plant represents a long-term investment for Great Lakes and will strengthen Utah's economic base.

Fillmore Mayor Mike Winget told the Deseret News the new plant is a "big deal" for Fillmore, which has a population of just over 2,000.

"It will mean great things for us," he said. "We've been waiting a long time for this announcement."

The plant will be built on vacant land near the Fillmore I-15 off-ramp. The property is currently in the county, but Winget said it will now be annexed to the city.

Winget said Fillmore's two largest businesses at this time are the Pictsweet mushroom plant and Sunrise Engineering.

Gary Vanic, president and CEO of Great Lakes, said he expects to break ground on the new plant this fall and have it up and running by September 2001. He said the company will invest about $20 million building the facility.

"I am pleased that, once again, economic development professionals working for the state are moving forward with my initiative to bring economic prosperity to communities beyond the Wasatch Front," said Gov. Mike Leavitt in a news release. "Great Lakes Cheese Co. will be a great addition to central Utah's business community."

Rick Mayfield, division director, said the announcement is "evidence that the cooperation between the business development team and rural economic development leaders is paying off."

Great Lakes was founded 42 years ago by Hans Epprecht, a Swiss immigrant, and remains privately held by the Epprecht family and the company's employees through an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP).

Last year the National Cheese Institute gave Hans Epprecht its highest honor, the NCI Laureate Award, for his lifetime of work in the industry.

Cathy Rawstorne, the division's associate director of the National Business Development, said the company has sustained continual growth for more than four decades.

"Great Lakes is known for outstanding customer service and dedicated employees, and its presence will be a great opportunity for the city of Fillmore," said Rawstorne.

E-mail: max@desnews.com