The Porking of Michigan: We were promised high-tech jobs. Instead, we were given a pork processing plant.

A few years ago, I interviewed an author here by the name of Ted McClelland, a former Michigander who, as you might recall, had stirred up a little bit of a shit storm after referring to our home state as “Michissippi” in an article on Salon.com about our passage of so-called right-to-work legislation. “Michigan,” said McClelland in the article, “has lost so many educated workers that the state’s leadership seems to feel it has no choice but to become a low-wage haven. The kind of place that attracts chicken processors, not software engineers.” Well, here we are, almost exactly two years later, knee-deep in yet another lame duck, race-to-the-bottom legislative session, and it looks as though McClelland was pretty much right on the money. Today, the Michigan Economic Development Council proudly announced that, thanks to their efforts, there would be 810 new jobs in the state of Michigan… at a hog slaughtering facility.

Merry Christmas, Michigan! All of your dreams have come true!

The following comes from today’s Detroit Free Press:

In the biggest such project landed by Michigan since Gov. Rick Snyder targeted food processing as a jobs-growth sector, Clemens Food Group, of Hatfield, Pa., plans to build a $255-million pork processing plant in Coldwater that will employ 810 workers.

The Michigan Strategic Fund approved $12.5 million in Community Development Block Grant funds Tuesday for the city of Coldwater for infrastructure improvements, land acquisition, workforce development and on-the-job training for the plant.

Clemens Food CEO Doug Clemens, in an interview with the Free Press, said he aims to have the new Coldwater plant operating by late 2017, and that processing of hiring and training employees will begin in the next six months. Entry-level production jobs will pay about $13 an hour, but a wide range of higher-skill management and technical positions will also be available, he said.

Michigan took an unusually proactive approach in courting Clemens Food, a sixth-generation family-owned outfit founded in 1895 that now has 2,200 employees, nearly all based in eastern Pennsylvania…

You read that right, we’re not only getting a pork processing plant, and all of the lost fingers and environmental degradation that will invariably come along with it, but we got to pay for it!

Yup, we have the distinction of living in a state that, while cutting public education to the bone, has decided to invest millions in pork processing. That, my friends, pretty much says it all. We were promised high tech jobs, and, instead, they took our money and used it to lure one of the dirtiest industries this side of fracking to our state.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. These are the industries that thrive in areas where unions are legislated out of existence and public schools are being closed to make room for for-profit charters. Bright people do not want to live here. And that’s why, right now, we’re talking about luring an enormous slaughterhouse to Michigan instead of a cutting edge manufacturer of wind turbine blades. This is what we’ve chosen for ourselves.

Before we go any further, I’d like to share a little something from the National Institutes of Health about what the folks of Coldwater can expect in exchange for those $13 an hour, non-union jobs slitting the throats of pigs.

…Meat processing involves animal slaughter at facilities where the meat is to be sold or kept on-site for canning, cooking, curing, freezing, or making meat products. It also includes preparing byproducts such as lard, gelatine, or tallow.

Meat processing uses large quantities of water and generates wastewater which includes significant amounts of organic matter such as fat, blood, manure, hair, feathers, and bones. This wastewater can also contain disease-causing organisms, bacteria, parasite eggs, oil, grease, salt, nitrogen and ammonia compounds, phosphorus, and chlorine.

Air pollution generated by meat processing can include particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and hazardous air pollutants. Other byproducts of meat processing include odors, noise, and solid waste for treatment or disposal.

The slaughtering, processing, and packaging of meat has long been associated with a high rate of accidents, injuries, and illnesses caused by handling bacteria or infected carcasses or tissues. Meat processing has a much higher injury and illness rate than the average U.S. factory. Because of the repetitive motion involved in meat processing, worker safety and health issues also include ergonomic concerns…

It’s hazardous work. And, with the increasing speed and volume of production, working the “cut line” is fast becoming one of America’s most dangerous profession. Here’s an interesting little anecdote from a recent feature in Business Week on the true cost of pork.

…A Fremont worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals in the workplace, describes a recent incident involving a “gut snatcher,” the person responsible for pulling innards from the abdominal cavity. One day last year, the snatcher still had one of his hands inside the carcass when a saw cut through the spine of the animal and sliced off four of his fingers. “I think he lose two of these,” the witness says, pointing to his middle and ring fingers. Then as if an afterthought, he adds that he too has lost part of a finger—the tip of his left pinkie—to a rib cutter. And his wife also lost her index finger, severed by a fat trimmer. In every case, he says, “they washed it up but never stopped production.”

And then there are the environmental costs associated with pork processing, which, as stated above, is a very resource intensive industry, especially when it comes to water… My hope is that the folks living along the Coldwater River fare better than the folks who live along the Trinity River in Dallaw, which is known to run red with “pigs’ blood and other toxic biohazard refuse.”

porkmi

I should add that I know that that there are likely good reasons to have a facility such as this located in close proximity to the animals to be processed. (As it is now, as I understand it, many animals raised in Michigan are exported for slaughter.) Putting aside for the moment the fact that American meat consumption isn’t sustainable, and can never be at present levels, given the negative impact the industry has on the environment, and the resources required to produce a pound of meat, I do imagine that having a facility like this in Michigan could perhaps cut down on highway miles traveled by meat industry trucks, and thereby have some environmental benefit. (Granted, it’s likely a drop in the bucket when the industry is looked at holistically, though.) Furthermore, not everyone is well-suited for a high-tech, “next-generation” job, like those Snyder used to talk so eloquently about. I get that. For war it’s worth, I’m also aware of the fact that this processor, Clemens Food, the 16th-largest pork producer in the United States, may not be the most evil company in the world. A friend just pointed out, for instance, that they’ve committed to switch from crates to “free-to-roam” pigpens across their operation. Sure, they’ve said that it will take them until 2022, to get all of their suppliers on board, but it’s probably still worth pointing out. Furthermore, the company states on its website that it requires employees to sign a “swine handlers code of conduct” and complete a training program in animal welfare. And, to their credit, I have not found any evidence of severe violations in the reading I’ve done thus far. (Granted, I haven’t invested a lot of time thus far.) With all of that said, though, I’m still disappointed in our State. I’m disappointed that it’s gotten to the point where dangerous jobs inside a hog processing plant for $13 an hour are seen as something to be proud of.

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22 Comments

  1. Eel
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Insert Snyder quote about 21st century jobs.

  2. Posted December 17, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Having grown up in Mississippi, I am beginning to take offense to your habitual use of the term “Michissippi.”

    Though Mississippi is full of problems, the two areas are hardly comparable and you disregard the ways in which Mississippi distinguishes itself from Michigan. Note that they rejected a “Personhood amendment” by a landslide. In Michigan, I’m not sure that would happen, given today’s climate. Mississippi’s food is far better than Michigan’s and despite Michigan’s own formidable cultural history, Mississippi’s is far deeper. d

    I dislike Mississippi greatly, but I’m familiar enough with the positives and the negatives to know that Michigan and Mississippi are really not particularly comparable with one another.

    Kentucky might be a more apt comparison and a place that you are more familiar with.

  3. Meta
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    The analogy isn’t perfect. For one thing, Mississippi’s projected job growth numbers are higher than Michigan’s.

    Here’s some background from The Bridge.

    Is Michigan prepared to change?

    It won’t be easy. For Snyder and other state leaders, it means facing some uncomfortable truths about Michigan’s future, and taking steps that might not always be popular in the short run. More money for education, starting with toddlers’ first steps and continuing until they walk across a stage with a college diploma. More money to repair and replace our crumbling roads and bridges over which new business and new residents must travel. More of a willingness to invest in the present, to stave off a Dickensian future.

    “I’m afraid that’s the direction Michigan is heading,” warns University of Michigan economist Don Grimes, “toward a poor, old state.”

    It doesn’t have to be, if leaders view these dire job projections as a wakeup call.

    To conduct the analysis, Bridge used projections made by Economic Modeling Specialists Inc., in Idaho, based on federal Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That analysis projects about 266,000 jobs added to the Michigan economy by 2023. That’s a growth rate of about 6 percent over 10 years, compared to a projected growth for the rest of the country of 11.4 percent.

    Michigan ranks 49th in projected job growth, beating out only Maine. (That’s actually an improvement for Michigan, which ranked 50th in job growth over the past decade.)

    Just being average in job growth would make a major difference. If Michigan added jobs at just the national average over the next 10 years, residents would have 245,000 more jobs to pick from than projected. If the state had a growth rate half way between neighboring Ohio and Indiana (7.6 percent and 12 percent, respectively) Michigan would have 148,000 additional jobs.

    Michigan has a bigger hole to climb out of than most states. It lost a higher percentage of jobs in the past decade than any other state. Even with jobs now growing in the state, Michigan likely will still have fewer in 2023 (4,591,000) than it did in 2003 (4,614,000).

    If growth is indeed that slow, it will do little to attack Michigan’s unemployment rate of 9 percent, which is third-highest in the nation.

    One more Scrooge-like number: There will be fewer new jobs created in Michigan in the next 10 years (266,000) than Michigan residents who are now unemployed (423,000).

    Read more:
    http://bridgemi.com/2013/12/michigans-christmas-carol/

  4. Gene
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    This will definitely help to keep young people in the state. F*ck Chicago, NYC, or LA – we got pork! Aw yeah! Mo’ pigs, mo’ betta.

  5. Demetrius
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Peter — I agree that picking on Mississippi might be somewhat unfair … but I think for many of us, using tongue-in-cheek terms like “Michi-ssippi” is just a shorthand way of expressing the anger, fear, and dismay that many of us feel from watching Michigan’s 40+ year-long downward spiral from being a relatively prosperous, progressive state … to what we have become today.

    In fact, I’m sure that for many who are younger than 40, it may be hard to believe that only about two generations ago Michigan was, in many ways, the envy of the nation — with good roads, quality K-12 schools, a top-notch public university system, ample and well-maintained public libraries, museums, and public recreation lands, and ranking at or near the top in the nation in terms of job opportunities, income, benefits, home-ownership, etc.

  6. Mr. X
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    This whole thing is a massive bait and switch. We were promised “21st Century” jobs by Rick Snyder. And, instead, he’s telling us that we should be thankful for the opportunity to work as “gut snatchers”. It would be one thing if this company had decided to open a plant here. I could accept that. That’s not what happened, though. We paid them to come here. We’re buying them land. We’re building them a plant. This is where we chose to invest our money. We didn’t build the nations largest solar farm. We build a slaughterhouse.

  7. dot dot dash
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Detroit was the birthplace of the black middle class.

  8. anonymous
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Maybe we can feed our prisoners dried caked of pig blood and save a few more dollars.

  9. Gene
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I agree re: Michississippi, eventhough i’ve thrown it around myself. As we have nearly won the race to the bottom, maybe it’s time to widen scope, and potentially offend new entities:
    — Michiganistan
    — Michssia
    — Michiganda
    — Michorida
    — Michigas
    Admittedly, Michigan already has crap weather. Why are we making it so much harder for people to stay or move to this state? I love my home and my peeps, but this is very hard state to love.

  10. Kat
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Video of Dr. Temple Grandin showing how a pork processing plant works.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsEbvwMipJI

  11. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I can understand the argument that the money spent on bringing these jobs to Michigan could have been spent on a more forward looking and higher wage paying industry… However, if people complaining are meat eaters then I really can’t hear their complaints through the hypocrisy. The slaughter industry has varying degrees of horror but it is all horror in my opinion. The closer the slaughter and processing is to home the better, unfortunately.

  12. Dan
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Full disclosure, I have worked for the company in question for 10 years. I grew up in agriculture, went to college, got a degree, got an MBA and I now work in Business Development for Clemens.
    Your notions of the types of jobs associated with meat processing are a little bit antiquated. Our plant in PA has a diverse and skilled workforce. Certainly there are lots of line workers and hands-on labor, but also hundreds of supervisory, sales, financial, engineering, and management opportunities as well. I would urge you to do some research on the company, its reputation in the community, and its environmental record. We are located about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia in an area that has become a thriving and wealthy suburb.
    The plant sits a few hundred feet from a large retail complex and in close proximity to many upscale housing developments. If we were not a good corporate citizen, you would be reading about our misdeeds every day in the Philly Inquirer. Everyone is very excited about this project and we look forward to bringing the same values to our new “sister” site in Coldwater.

  13. Demetrius
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    @ Dan

    Is “business development” anything like “public relations?”

  14. Taco Farts
    Posted December 17, 2014 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    If anyone wants to actually do (some of) the research: http://www.all-creatures.org/faun/sla-pa-m791.html

  15. Posted December 18, 2014 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    I felt that the movie tax break had a far wider impact than this pork processing plant in Coldwater, but that’s just my opinion.

    As for “Michissippi,” it is unfair and it is insulting. Mississippi is full of problems, but I think there are a lot of people working very hard to improve things. I admit, I don’t like the place, but it stings to hear Michiganders throw the term around like they know anything about Mississippi at all.

    But enough on that.

    I found Dan’s comment interesting. It is always nice to hear from the inside. Political writing often glosses over the details in favor of creating shocking stories.

    Certainly, this is going to be better for Coldwater than the traditional methods of shoring up the rural vote, like building prisons.

  16. Posted December 18, 2014 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    If you read my entire post, you’ll see that I said Clemens seemed like a pretty good company as far as pork processors go. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that it’s a dirty, dangerous business. My point wasn’t that Clemens was terrible. My point was that we were told by the Snyder administration that, once we passed right-t0-work, we could have good, high paying jobs. The companies, he said, would flock here. That didn’t happen. Instead we had to give away millions for a pork processing plant.

  17. Posted December 18, 2014 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    Right to work was never about creating jobs for Michigan. Like abortion legislation targeted at very conservative states, it was based on pure ideology in the hopes that it could be exported elsewhere.

  18. Mr. X
    Posted December 18, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    “Why is this happening?”

    Watch Black Mirror episode 1.

    Politicians love pigs.

  19. Chucks
    Posted December 18, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Poor pigs! I hate that this is getting government support. And yes, I’m vegan, so I claim full right to be disgusted.

  20. Dan
    Posted December 19, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    no mention of this? Are these not high tech enough jobs?

    http://www.mlive.com/business/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/12/planned_toyota_expansions_to_b.html#incart_m-rpt-2

  21. Posted December 19, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Why do we need only high tech jobs?

    Most people who are unemployed have low level skill sets.

    We need to work to raise employment overall.

  22. Dan
    Posted December 19, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”

    While I agree with you Peter, I think Mark was talking about keeping college educated young professionals in state after graduation. Personally, I think we lose a lot of those people to places like Chicago simply because they want to spend their early 20s in a bustling modern city and waste lots of their new found money.

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