Pet food maker adding 50 jobs in $200M expansion

Henry the schnauzer and Topper the cat might not understand nuances of economic development.

However, their owner, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, is grateful that his pets’ daily food provider, Blue Buffalo, is expanding its Richmond operations.

Holcomb visited Richmond on Thursday to celebrate Blue Buffalo’s plans to create 50 to 60 new jobs by the end of 2024.

The pet food maker will spend $200 million to build and equip a 169,000-square-foot addition, which increases its Midwest Industrial Park building by more than 40 percent. Processing and warehouse capacity will be increased for dog and cat food for U.S. and Canadian customers.

The investment comes just four years after General Mills celebrated the grand opening of the city’s $200 million plant. The Richmond site employs 180 full-time workers and plans to hire more production staff later this year.

Local workers make BLUE Life Protection Formula, Wilderness, True Solutions, Basics and Freedom brands of dry dog and cat food. The Richmond plant makes 90 percent of the company’s cat food.

Another extruder line will be added, along with three new packaging lines and an associated mix and transfer system.

Plant manager Terry Abner, a Richmond native who returned from Kansas to lead the new factory, said the expansion is meaningful to him. Abner said the company prioritizes high standards of worker safety, quality products, and an intentional culture of belonging and inclusion created for its employees, known as Buffs.

Attendees listen to remarks made before the groundbreaking March 23. Photo by Mike Emery

“We proudly produce the world’s best pet food while loving our brand, our herd and our community like family,” Abner said. “We hire Buffs that are humble, hungry and smart. Humble is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less often. Hungry is wanting to win, but wanting to win together. Smart is that we champion belonging, making sure that working with individuals is just as important on how much you get done as how well you work with your partner and your teammates.”

Concluding his remarks, Abner said, “One day when someone asks me where I’m from, and I say Richmond, I want them to say the home of Blue Buffalo. That’s what we’re striving for here today.”

Thanks to announcements such as Blue Buffalo’s, Holcomb said Indiana is on pace to surpass last year’s record-setting capital investments.

“This is a formula for opportunity, and for career opportunities, most importantly, which means that Hoosiers get to make more investments in their own families and be part of this culture that you heard so much about where people want to be part of this growth,” Holcomb told Western Wayne News.

Holcomb said he’s very proud of the partnership between state officials, Blue Buffalo and Richmond, and the company’s quest for excellence in a state ranked No. 1 for being pet friendly.

Gov. Eric Holcomb speaks during a March 23 celebration for Blue Buffalo’s planned Richmond expansion. Photo by Mike Emery

“It’s a really exciting day to be able to come back again and again to keep up with not just the physical plant expansion but all the innovation, all the research that goes into manufacturing a superior product,” Holcomb said. “That’s the exact kind of advanced manufacturing that Indiana wants to continue.”

Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said it was great to have Holcomb back in Richmond to celebrate Blue Buffalo’s “very speedy success,” but he doesn’t consider this the end of the plant’s growth.

Snow recalled discussing future plans with Holcomb and Blue leadership during the plant’s groundbreaking and opening. “To already be at this point to see this huge investment already happening and the growth of Richmond’s Blue Buffalo plant is just so exhilarating,” Snow said.

The mayor praised local Buffs’ spirit, often seeing Blue Buffalo apparel around town.

“It’s a real testament to their commitment to their work, to the pride they have in the work they do, and their commitment to this community,” Snow said.

Mayor Dave Snow speaks before the groundbreaking. Photo by Mike Emery

Snow shared gratitude for Blue Buffalo’s willingness to help when approached with local needs.

He also thanked Holcomb, saying, “Your leadership, partnership and support of Wayne County and Richmond have been instrumental on our forward momentum, and the tone you set for your administration to be bipartisan partners around the state is what’s keeping Indiana competitive. It’s communities like ours that are thriving in an otherwise tumultuous environment because of the tone you’ve set.”

In addition to Buffs, the audience included several county officials and members of Richmond Common Council, including councilor and Richmond mayoral candidate Ron Oler.

Oler called Thursday an exciting day for the city and county after attending his first groundbreaking there on a muddy cornfield 12 years ago.

“We were hoping and praying for jobs and nice factories, and we’ve gotten more than we bargained for and more than we could ask for with Blue Buffalo,” Oler said. “It’s been a great community partner, good paying jobs, really good people, very supportive of the community. I could not be happier with Blue Buffalo – they do everything right.”

Valerie Shaffer, president of Economic Development Corp. of Wayne County, said the local plant’s major expansion was “definitely unexpected” five short years after its opening.

“But, it’s not surprising in a sense that this plant has performed so well in terms of output, quality of the workforce and then overall Blue’s commitment to this community and how much they have engrained themselves and positioned themselves as a premier employer where people seek out to work here,” Shaffer said. “That success, I think, will continue to build upon itself with this new expansion.”

To assist with Blue Buffalo’s expansion, Indiana Economic Development Corp. is providing up to $600,000 in incentive-based tax credits, along with up to $100,000 in Hoosier Business Investment tax credits and up to $200,000 in Manufacturing Readiness Grants. The latter are designed to help companies invest in smart manufacturing and new technologies.

Wayne County will consider additional supportive incentives, a news release noted.

Mike Emery contributed to this article.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 29 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.