COLD SPRING - A high demand for chicken has spurred an expansion project at GNP Company in Cold Spring. The first of two $35-$40 million expansion phases is underway right now. The expansion in the live receiving area is expected to be done by September. The second phase will add space to the processing area.

Executive Vice President Tim Wensman says they've had strong demand for their products over the last several years.

A few years ago our demand exceeded our capability, and our available supply.  Knowing that as we looked forward at our strategic planning, we looked at what consumers want and how do we provide the solution to what they want. We've had a list of customers that we just could not sell because we've got a very high demand.

However, the two expansions don't mean additional employees. Instead they're looking at more robotics, and new technology, to do the work.

Right now GNP employs about 550 people in their production area.

On struggles to find workers:
GNP Company continues to struggle to find workers. Peggy Brown is the Senior Director of Human Resources. She says they are not fully staffed right now.

We're in areas where there is very low unemployment. Also, it's a drive for people to come from St. Cloud out to Cold Spring, so that's a barrier for some people.  So we're not fully staffed. We would like to have more workers. We are currently trying different recruiting techniques to bring more workers in.

Brown says they offer several incentives to attract new workers, including: on-site technical training through the St. Cloud Technical and Community College, English as a second language classes through District 742, and buses running between St. Cloud and Cold Spring.

Starting pay for entry level jobs is $12.75 an hour, plus benefits.

Brown says earlier this year they explored bringing in foreign workers and house them at a former convent in St. Cloud, but they decided not to move forward with that plan.

Four out of 10 workers at GNP Company are people of color, and seven different languages are spoken.

On antibiotic free and organically raised chicken:
With demand growing for antibiotic free products, GNP Company continues to move in that direction as well. Wensman says organically grown chicken is also talked about a lot, but it's not as big of a market.

Although there's a lot of talk about organic, there's not a lot of people willing to pay for it. So it's a very very small segment of our business. Antibiotic free though on the other hand, there are many many consumers that are interested in that type of product. And we are now raising all of our product in the St. Cloud area antibiotic free.

Wensman says, if a bird in a flock does get sick, they will treat the bird but it won't be sold under the GNP product lines.

He says about 30 to 40 percent of consumers say they want organically grown chicken, but only about two to three percent are willing to pay for it, which can be about double the price as antibiotic free chicken.

GNP Company is ranked 19th in the nation in chicken production. Cold Spring is the company's primary distribution center. Their production lines run five days a week, with two shifts. Their primary market is here in the upper Midwest.

GNP Plant Coordinator Pam Brenny, photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice
GNP Company, photo by WJON.com's Jim Maurice