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Expansion could add up to 100 new jobs

UNIONTOWN – The cheese could be spreading if a Faunsdale company can figure a whey out.

Southeastern Cheese, LLC, could expand its operations and create as many as 100 new jobs in the next 18 months to two years if environmental concerns and financing issues can be worked out, a company official said.

The company produces bulk cheese that is sold to other companies for reprocessing and currently employs 30 people during its high-demand season, downscaling to around 15 or so during off-peak times.

“One of our biggest problems is the ADEM,” said Patrick Rankin, operations manager at the plant.

ADEM – the Alabama Department of Environmental Management – has required the plant to treat its waste product, whey, through a lagoon system, rather than spreading it to dry, Rankin said.

“One of the considerations (for the expansion) is something to do with the whey,” he said.

Rankin said the “end-all” solution was the installation of a dryer system to dry the whey, which could then be marketed as a by-product itself. He estimated such a system could cost as much as $4 million to install.

He said the company would be looking for a grant to help defray that cost, or the cost of other alternatives before finalizing any expansion plans.

The company’s plans, however, have already made it to Washington, D.C.

Uniontown Mayor Phillip White and Congressman Artur Davis announced Wednesday their collaborative effort to spur the expansion effort along, which White said would have the equivalent impact on his city as a new industry moving into town.

White, Plant Manager Pat Rankin, a council member and Jonathan Bonner, the city’s consulting engineer, last month made a trip to Washington to meet with Davis and Sen. Richard Shelby in hopes of finding federal support for the project.

“It’s in the beginning phase, but I hope to see it come to a full head within the next two years,” White said. “The families of the Black Belt need it, our town needs it.”

Davis, in a prepared statement, said he was pleased to be involved in the project.

“I am pleased to work with Mayor White and the management of Southeastern Cheese Factory to promote the factory’s efforts to expand and create new jobs in Perry County,” he said.

Davis said the Washington meetings primarily focused on options for effective of on-site environmental management practices for the factory and dairy, strategies for communication with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) relating to site management and strategic planning options for funding factory expansion and new product development and job creation for the cheese factory.