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Bell & Evans expansion plan burgeons

Organic chicken production company's additional projects expected to add more than 1,000 jobs

When Bell & Evans says it’s growing, it’s not joking around.

The Lebanon County organic chicken production company is making an ambitious expansion plan even more ambitious by buying an additional 40 acres in Bethel Township to use for a chicken hatchery it plans to open next spring.

The three expansion projects the company is either currently undertaking or has planned will cost about $140 million and add more than 1,000 jobs when they reach full build-out.

“It’s untapped demand we’re not able to meet in our current infrastructure,” Bell & Evans Chief Financial Officer Dan Chirico said of what’s fueling the company’s growth. “We have very strong customers like Wegmans and Whole Foods that are pulling us along.”

Hatchery

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The newest part of the plan includes a different location for the hatchery — the first on the Bell & Evans campus — that is expected to produce about 1 million to 1.5 million chicks per week. Currently, it owns a hatchery in Belleville that hatches about 1 million chicks a week, and it buys chicks from an Elizabethtown farm, Chirico said.

The hatchery had been planned on a 113-acre parcel across Route 22 from the current processing plant construction project. But to accelerate the company’s expansion plans, it recently bought an adjacent 40-acre tract where it plans to build the 50,000-square-foot hatchery for $8 million to $12 million. It will then equip the hatchery with about $4 million to $6 million in machinery, Chirico said.

Both parcels are on Chestnut Hill Road.

Chirico said the company is in the design phase for the hatchery and hopes to break ground in the fall. It expects to start production in spring 2016.

‘Tolerable growth’

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Moving the hatchery frees space on the 113-acre property, formerly the Keystone Protein rendering plant, for additional expansion. The company plans to build an $80 million rendering plant on the site that will help it enter new markets, including the first organic rendering dog food.

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