BY NATE KING
Schwan’s Company, a leading food producer in the United States, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday to celebrate the completion of a 400,000-square-foot expansion of its Salina pizza manufacturing facility.
Company leaders joined government and civic officials in Salina — including Lieutenant Governor David Toland, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran and U.S. Representative Tracey Mann — to celebrate completion of a project that took more than two years to complete.
“We are excited to complete this bold expansion project which gives us the ability to continue leading the industry in growth in the pizza category,” said Smyrnios. “This expansion gives us more capacity and capability to bring America’s favorite pizza products to millions of families for decades to come and continue innovating to deliver new delicious products we know consumers will love.”
Investing for growth
Schwan’s Company, a subsidiary of South Korean food maker, CJ CheilJedang, is investing in the Salina facility to support its growth initiatives in the retail and food-service markets in the U.S. and abroad.
In 2020, the company announced plans to expand its pizza plant and add approximately 225 jobs to the community. The project includes state-of-the-art pizza-production lines capable of making 100 million pizzas a year, shipping and receiving docks, and office space.
Schwan’s first began operating a pizza plant in Salina in April 1970, when it acquired the Tony’s® pizza brand and plant from a Salina businessman. Employees at the facility continue to produce Tony’s® and Red Baron® pizza for grocery stores nationwide, as well as pizzas for food-service venues such as schools.
During Schwan’s ownership of the plant, the facility has grown from just 18,000 square feet to nearly one million square feet. The facility has seen more than 80 additions over the past five decades, making Schwan's plant in Salina the "largest pizza manufacturing plant in the world."
Distribution center project
The company has no plans to slow its growth in Salina. In November, Schwan’s announced its intention to more than double the size of its distribution center space in Salina. The new 140,000-square-foot distribution center project, which began this year and is expected to be completed in early 2025, will expand the total distribution center space at the facility to 245,000 square feet.
The new distribution center will be used to store food produced by employees at the company’s pizza plant. The state-of-the-art facility will include a 38,000-pallet-position racking system with three automated pallet cranes. The company’s overall manufacturing facility and distribution center space combined in Salina will exceed one million square feet upon completion.
Burns & McDonnell, a 100 percent employee-owned engineering and construction company, has led the architecture, engineering and construction of the expansions.
Working with Kansas public officials
To help facilitate the project, Schwan’s has worked with various federal, state and local public agencies and officials in Kansas, including the offices of Governor Laura Kelly and U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, the Kansas departments of Commerce and Transportation, the Salina Community Economic Development Organization, the City of Salina, the Salina Airport Authority, Saline County and Salina Area Chamber of Commerce on economic development and incentive opportunities.
“On behalf of everyone at Schwan’s and our parent company, CJ, I thank the Salina community and federal, state and local officials in Kansas for helping us make this expansion a success. Most especially, I thank our employees at the facility for their contributions to the success of this project and for continuing to make the highest-quality foods,"Smyrnios said.
Hoppock said he is thoroughly pleased to be the mayor of "The Pizza Capital of the World" now that the Schwan's plant is the largest pizza manufacturing plant in the world.
"We've worked on whatever we could as far as some ordinances. We vacated some right of ways," Hoppock said. "We've worked really close with the economic development organization and the Salina Airport Authority."
Hoppock added that much like what the city did with the Kubota expansion, the Schwan's expansion was not a guaranteed "slam dunk."
"There's a lot of other communities across the country that would love to have Schwan's in their backyard. So with the help of the state and federal government, and locally, we've done what we could to keep them here because it's an important part of Salina," Hoppock said.
In total, there have been 80 expansions at the Schwan's facility since 1970, when Schwan's founder and owner, Marvin Schwan, placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal with a simple headline: "Wanted: Frozen Pizza Manufacturer." The ad led to the purchase of the original, 18,000 sq. foot plant in Salina.
Hoppock, who has lived in Salina for 44 years, said he hasn't seen 80 separate expansions, but one continuous expansion, one iteration after the next.
"I'm not sure how you can tell there's 80 expansion, I think it's been one continuous expansion. If you were out here, there's always a construction crew adding on," Hoppock said. "This is just a continuation of that and obviously the largest expansion they've done but a very important one to the community."
With the addition of 225 jobs, Hoppock said the important next step is supplying housing options for those employees and their families.
"One of the things that we're doing now, is a group of us went to the state to get money for housing," Hoppock said. "Today, we have the facility that we need to make sure we get the workers and a lot of that comes down to having housing for both owner occupied and rental properties."
Moran said he was very "pleased" being back in Salina.
"I just came from the nation's capital, I'm much more pleased to be in the Pizza Capital of the World," Moran said "This does not happen without community leadership, But I also want to make sure that we never forget that none of this happens when we don't have people who are willing to go to work. If people don't get up in the morning and say 'I'm going to work, I'm gonna do the best job I know how to do and I'm gonna do my job well, I'm gonna earn a paycheck for that."
"Salina, Kansas, is a place where people still know the value of work, and for the future of our state, the future of our country. We have role models here in Kansas, and here in Salina, and here at Tony's that go to work every day and work hard, and in that opportunity they create opportunities for themselves and others."
Before offering his remarks Mann reminisced on memories of his time in high school in Quinter.
"I realize fully that you all did not come here to hear speeches, you all came here to eat frozen pizza," Mann said. "I was driving here thinking- I grew up in Quinter, Kansas, but I remember, once a month on Friday at the Quinter High School was frozen pizza day. That was always a highlight of the year."
"In Congress, I serve on the House Agriculture, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Small Business committees. And I feel like today is bringing all of those things together for me," Mann said. "It feels like a perfect example of all three of those issues coming together to create jobs, strengthen our economy and keep our community thriving. This updated state of the our facility will create 225 new jobs and serve as an economic driver of our community for a long time."
Although Governor Laura Kelly was not present at the ribbon cutting event, Lieutenant Governor David Toland was.
Toland, who also serves as state commerce secretary, said there is an "economic renaissance" occurring in Salina and Kansas.
"From the first conversation that we had about the concept of this being built in Kansas to seeing and being able to experience the new pizza plant smell here today, it's a wonderful thing," Toland said." If you look at what is happening with this company, in this community, it is an incredible thing. There is a renaissance that has occurred in Salina and in this region. It's being driven by proactive and purposeful economic development that's led at the local level, by our partners, Tim, with the airport authority, my goodness, we've had many of those late night calls on this project and others to make sure that we can get it done."
During his remarks, Toland praised the work of Randi Tveitaraas Jack, deputy director for the international division within the Kansas Department of Commerce.
"Once upon a time we had 14 people in the international division at the Kansas Department of Commerce and then we had some difficult years," Toland said. "And by the time I came along, Governor Kelly and I, there were two people in the international division. One of them was Randi. And Randi has doggedly worked this project here and she likes to stay in the background, but I'll tell you, this wouldn't have happened without Randi's work. And so I'm grateful to her."
Toland went on to thank the entire delegation of elected officials from Senator Moran down to the city and local entities who made the project possible.
"The reason Salina is winning is because of this local team," Toland said. "You've got committed local government partners, economic development professionals, the Salina Chamber of Commerce, everybody's rowing in the same direction. And so in the end, this recipe that is based on collaboration has led to something that is truly transformational here. And we're most proud that Kansans themselves are the most important ingredient in all of this."