Pet food manufacturer celebrates start of production in Dubuque

Local economic development leaders, elected officials and company employees gathered this morning to celebrate the beginning of production at Simmons Pet Food in Dubuque.

The pet food producer commenced operations earlier this month and currently employs 150 people, with plans to add more staff and expand its facility on the immediate horizon.

“Today is a very special day for the Simmons family, and we hope it’s a very special day for Dubuque as well,” said Simmons Pet Food President Scott Salmon, as cheers rang across the upper mezzanine of the company’s newly opened facility, located at 501 Seippel Road.

Today’s celebratory event included remarks from company officials, as well as a ceremonial ribbon-cutting in front of the facility.

Simmons Pet Food now occupies the sprawling, 275,000-square-foot facility that was built by Flexsteel Industries, which recently ceased manufacturing operations in Dubuque and vacated the building.

Efforts to bring Simmons Pet Food to Dubuque came together quickly, a reality mentioned by company officials and local leaders alike.

Representatives from Simmons initially visited the Seippel Road facility during the first week of November. By the next month, they had announced plans to open a production facility in Dubuque

“When the city and the Greater Dubuque Development Corp. began talking with Simmons, we immediately understood the urgent nature of Simmons’ timeline for this project and the necessary construction,” Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol said today.

He added that he is proud the city created the necessary incentives — including tax-increment-financing rebates and a land acquisition grant — to sweeten the deal and solidify Simmons’ arrival in Dubuque.

Simmons Foods President and CEO Todd Simmons also referenced the frantic timeline and collaborative nature of the dealings that culminated in the company’s new operation.

“This facility is so much more than the sum of its parts,” he said. ‘”The people of Simmons and the people of Dubuque came together in such a powerful way to make this come together so quickly and so well.”

Simmons Pet Food operates under the umbrella of Simmons Foods, a family-owned business founded in 1949 and headquartered in Siloam Springs, Ark. Simmons Foods is also a leading supplier of poultry and animal nutrition products.

When company officials first announced plans to open in Dubuque, they forecast a total investment of $80 million and predicted that the operation would ramp up to 270 jobs by the second quarter of 2023. To date, the company is poised to over-deliver on each of those promises.

Simmons officials now estimate that total investment at 501 Seippel will reach $100 million, a figure that includes the costs of retrofitting the existing footprint of the building and expanding the facility. In addition, company leaders confirmed today that they will start operating their second production line — and reach 270 jobs — by April of next year, about one year ahead of schedule.

The operation already is humming along.

Wes McClure, senior vice president of operations for Simmons Pet Food, said production started on July 5.

McClure noted that employees are producing 22-ounce cans of pet food and, within the next year, the Dubuque operation will be adding a 5-ounce and 13-ounce offering.

“We are a four-shift operation running 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” McClure said.

Even so, the company’s growth continues at breakneck speed.

Simmons Foods Vice President of Operations Brian Potter said 60 additional employees recently were hired and will start over the next 30 days, which will bring the Dubuque employment total to 210.

With 150 workers, Simmons Pet Food in Dubuque already has an annual payroll of $6.5 million. Its estimated annual payroll will balloon to $13.7 million once it reaches full capacity.

In addition to production jobs, Simmons Pet Food is employing people who specialize in research and development, quality control, engineering, programming, procurement, human resources and a variety of other duties.

“Just about every profession that is out there, we represent it here,” Potter said. “It is amazing to bring all of those folks together to build the company we have.”

Local economic development leaders struck a celebratory tone at today’s gathering, heaping praise upon the company and framing the arrival of Simmons as a noteworthy achievement for Dubuque.

Molly Grover, president and CEO of Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, led the crowd in a hearty cheer to demonstrate how excited the community is to welcome the company.

“(Simmons Pet Food) could have chosen to invest anywhere, and they chose Dubuque,” Grover said.

Greater Dubuque Development Corp. President and CEO Rick Dickinson spoke about the company’s family roots and praised the progress it has made since it was founded more than seven decades ago.

“Beginning with the first generation in the 1940s, and with three generations now, Simmons has grown to be a phenomenal corporation and a phenomenal corporate family,” he said. “You have built that, and it is miraculous.”