The multi-decade project created to further Seward's economic future came rushing to fruition as Mayor Josh Eickmeier stood in a line involving a CEO and other elected officials, all staring down with scissors. The Seward Rail Campus' landmark first tenant, Petsource by Scoular, officially arrived.
Gov. Pete Ricketts gleefully cut through a massive strip of ceremonial blue tape that Scoular CEO Paul Maass held. PetSource General Manager Amy Patterson and Nebraska Congressman Don Bacon shared an oversized pair of scissors to make a separate cut. Ceremony complete.
The Sept. 1 afternoon ceremony brought out all those local and elected officials, as well as the current 44 Petsource employees and those from Gray Construction – tasked with raising the facility into what it's become since its groundbreaking just over a year ago.
“At the end of the day, that's what economic development means,” Gov. Ricketts said in his speech from the podium in front of the building. “It's companies like Scoular investing in cities in our state. Investing in places like Seward and allowing Nebraskan families to enjoy that good life.”
The ceremony served as a ceremonial landmark for not only the rail campus, but for its flagship tenant.
Scoular, founded in Superior in 1892, operates in Omaha and boasts its Nebraska heritage. Scoular first approached Seward about a plot at its new rail campus under the pseudonym Project Superior.
“Knowing that Scoular was founded over 125 years ago eased any concerns that I had that they may be a fly-by-night operation,” Eickmeier joked in his speech. “Finding out it was a Nebraska company built a sense of familiarity, comfort level and trust to move the project forward.”
Congressman Bacon, who represents the Omaha district where Scoular is based, spoke of the company's heritage. Scoular posted $4 billion in sales during its last fiscal year. Bacon reiterated the addition of Petsource – the company's first facility completely dedicated to developing pet food – and the impact a $50 million project and an eventual 100 employees would do for the local economy.
“Expanding the Scoular family right here in Seward, it's a tremendous addition,” Bacon said.
In the rounds of congratulations and thank yous sent during speeches, Ricketts and Eickmeier both took time to note State Senator and Seward resident Mark Kolterman for his role in the project that Patterson said included driving Scoular officials around Seward County in a Suburban. There were also thanks to the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership and its President and CEO Jonathan Jank. Eickmeier and Patterson both pointed out city council members, as well as City Administrator Greg Butcher for their roles in the project's development.
After all the congratulatory handshakes were made, Petsource and Gray Construction employees showed their 15 months of effort in a full tour of the 106,000-square foot facility.
Those invited to the event were split into several different tour groups to adhere to social distancing. Steven Moore, director of food safety, quality and innovation guided one of those groups through a detail-oriented tour showing the UV sanitation plans that were installed even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Moore also showed his group through each of the color-coded floors and walls meant to differentiate the facility's departments. He showed how quickly freeze-dried packages can move throughout the facility by its weight reduction and myriad machinery.
Freezer points in the facility dropped to as low as negative-25 degrees to ensure the pet food safety.
There are also research and development rooms in the facility where employees create new flavors and varieties of Petsource food. Amy Tesinsky in the research lab showed visitors how the frozen assortments that move through the facility quickly turn into treats replicating beef liver or a beef, apple and antioxidant combination.
And, in order to maintain consistency, boxing and bagging machinery in the facility use a “checkware” system that rejects items under or over a desired movement weight.
“We needed a state-of-the-art facility for our plans and we're thrilled to pick Seward and operate here,” Maass said before getting jokingly ambitious. “We're already confident enough to think about what expansion looks like down on that next plot.”
Eickmeier pointed out that such a massive operation doesn't typically approach a city of Seward's size.
“In fact,” he said, “Petsource represents the single largest, most significant economic development project in decades.”
The mayor, and local representatives, thanked Scoular and Petsource members for their commitment before welcoming them into the community.