Manufacturer to start 2nd production line in Dubuque; workforce to top 400

A pet food producer in Dubuque is primed for a production expansion that will welcome more than 30 additional employees to its already-growing workforce.

Simmons Pet Food started operations in Dubuque last July. A second pet food production line will begin commercial operation in August at the plant.

The new line, which is installed in the existing facility, was part of the company’s original growth plan in Dubuque. Once in operation, the second line will add 17 million cases, or 240 million units, to the Dubuque plant’s annual production output, and the facility’s total workforce will top 400.

“Our team members have done a fantastic job preparing to bring on this second production line to help meet growing customer demand and produce more food for the pets we love,” said Mark Donovan, vice president of operations in Dubuque, in an email from Simmons to the Telegraph Herald.

Simmons Pet Food operates under the umbrella of Simmons Foods, a family-owned business founded in 1949 and headquartered in Arkansas.

Officials announced plans to open a pet food production facility in Dubuque in December 2020 and worked with the city to secure incentives such as tax-increment-financing rebates and a land acquisition grant.

The company held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 275,000-square-foot facility at 501 Seippel Road — which formerly operated as a Flexsteel Industries plant — in July 2021, at which point Simmons employed 150 people in Dubuque.

Almost exactly a year later, the Dubuque facility’s workforce has more than doubled and additional growth is on the horizon with the opening of the second production line.

“We’re certainly pleased with all the positive ripple effects from Simmons deciding to expand here in Dubuque,” said Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of Greater Dubuque Development Corp. “They have fulfilled and exceeded all expectations on the project and are now exceeding 300 employees, which is significantly higher than they originally anticipated.”

Company officials report that Simmons currently employs 370 people in Dubuque and that the total will top 400 in the next several weeks. When Simmons announced plans to open in Dubuque, company officials predicted that the operation would ramp up to 270 jobs by the second quarter of 2023.

“Although it’s a tight labor market, they have been very successful in finding the talent they need,” Dickinson said.

He added that he has been impressed with the varied ways Simmons officials have recruited workers, including online. The company also has made use of the Opportunity Dubuque program and worked with Northeast Iowa Community College on “earn and learn” and upskilling programs for employees.

“Anyone that’s recruiting today the way they recruited three years ago is going to be struggling,” Dickinson said.

Donovan also wrote that Simmons recently announced plans to offer hourly employees a back-to-school bonus and an increase in hourly wage rates.

The company’s total investment in the Dubuque operation is approximately $100 million. Dickinson said the facility also has a major financial impact because of its use of city utilities.

“They are a major customer of city services, utilizing both sanitary sewer and water,” he said. “They’re a major energy user, and they run a 24/7 operation, so all those things are benefits to our market. We’re fortunate to have been successful in recruiting them to start with, and we look forward to their continued growth.”