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Blue Bunny to build a plant in St. George

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ST. GEORGE — The nation's largest family-owned and managed dairy processor has announced plans to build a $30 million ice cream manufacturing plant in St. George this year.

Doug Wells, chief operating officer of Wells' Dairy Inc., said his company looked at 25 sites in 12 states before selecting St. George.

"The kicker for us was the culture and heritage of this area," Wells said Friday before leaving for company headquarters in Le Mars, Iowa. "We saw so much likeness, so many similarities between Le Mars and St. George, we knew it would be a good match."

Wells said construction on the 100,000-square-foot ice cream manufacturing plant at Ft. Pierce Industrial Park on the south end of the city will begin in March and should be completed within a year. The plant will initially employ about 40 people, with another 30 positions to be added when the plant reaches full production, he said.

Washington County economic development director Scott Hirschi said wages at the dairy plant, which will produce Blue Bunny ice cream, are "very attractive" and should start in the "teens."

Price Waterhouse Coopers conducted the site survey for Wells' Dairy.

"We've been working on this for 16 months," Hirschi said. "The site consultants really made me earn my keep. There was no stone unturned in their research."

Questions about the city's work force availability, infrastructure and proximity to existing and potential Blue Bunny markets were asked, as well as a few unusual questions, he said.

"One day the phone rang and the question was: Can you give us an inventory of the fishing opportunities in St. George?" said Hirschi with a laugh.

Wells said the selection of St. George for the company's new plant made sense on several levels.

"All three finalists would have been excellent sites," said Wells. "But we saw the best match, the best location to optimize our chances of success, to be in St. George. You would not believe the documentation we have on the quality of labor available here in this area."

The St. George City Council approved an agreement with the dairy firm Thursday that allows the company to pay only 20 percent of its property taxes during its first 15 years of operation here. The money saved on property taxes will be spent to build the facility, improve the site and construct a wastewater treatment plant.

"We are champing at the bit to get started," said Wells of the St. George facility. Once the groundbreaking is under way, Wells predicted there would be ice cream socials and other community parties to help celebrate construction milestones. A special flavor, unique to Utah's Dixie, could also be developed to commemorate the company's venture into the state, he added.

Wells' Dairy employs 2,100 people in five states. Blue Bunny dairy products can be found across the United States and in 18 foreign countries.

E-mail: nperkins@redrock.net