Hart County's newest industry, Nestle Purina, kicked off its operation in May and has big plans for the community.
The Hartwell site is expected to be among the most modern pet food factories and feature best-in-class production equipment. This is Nestle Purina's second facility in Georgia, where the company employs 300 people at its other pet food factory in Fairburn.
Rachel Miller started out with Nestle Purina 15 years ago as a production trainee. Today, she is the factory manager for the Hartwell facility.
She recently gave The Hartwell Sun an inside look into local operations for the industry leader in pet nutrition.
"This is the first expansion in 20 years," Miller said about the new facility. "It's really exciting for our business. Our project team got on the ground in January with a target of opening up the distribution center in May. So, we've hired 40-plus people from the local area. Since May 18, we've been basically distributing in the Southeast region."
Those 40-plus people will have a lot of company over the course of the next few years.
"We're currently ramping up, so what we're doing today isn't the future state of where we're going to be from a volume perspective," Miller said. "We've committed to hiring 240 by 2023 and we're going to be on our way to that number."
In addition to the spike in employment opportunities by 2023, Nestle Purina plans to invest $320 million into the current 190,000 square-foot manufacturing and distribution center off U.S. Highway 29.
Expansion is already underway on site, which entails adding a freezer, an employee center and a canning building.
The company makes several brands of dog and cat food and supplies, including Fancy Feast, Purina One Dog Chow, Friskies, Tidy Cats litter, Pro Plan and several popular treats.
The Hartwell facility will focus primarily on Fancy Feast and Purina One wet food.
"What our key focus at Nestle Purina, really, is to focus on high-quality, nutritious pet food," Miller said. "We have recipes, which really is how we make sure the food is nutritious for the animals. We have over 500 scientists who are doing research to make sure that our foods are as healthy and nutritious as possible."
Those efforts must be paying off, because Nestle Purina holds five of the top 10 pet food brands in the nation based on retail dollars.
"Our pet food ends up in the bowls of more than 50 million dogs and 66 millions cats every year," Miller said. "It's a little mind-blowing."
Based on statistics provided by the company, there are approximately 78 million dogs and 85 million cats in the United States, while 65 percent of U.S. households confirm owning a pet. Based on those numbers, It's no wonder Nestle Purina products are in such high demand.
"It's part of the reason Nestle is really investing in pet care and the pet care business," Miller said. "When you look at the impact of having an animal, there are a lot of positive health impacts. It's just a really good business."
With a big part of that business now being housed in Hartwell, Miller divulged how Nestle Purina chose its newest location.
"When they started talking about expansion, they were looking at different places that had kind of a good culture fit and a good location," she said. "When they visited Hartwell, they kind of fell in love with the community, the locals, the officials, the business. Everybody has just been very welcoming and it reflects the culture that we have at Nestle Purina."
Miller expressed deep gratitude to the community on behalf of Nestle Purina and said the company has plans to continue being a driving force in giving back. The company has already proven that credo by providing generous donations to several local nonprofit organizations over the last few months.
"Everyone has been really generous and welcoming. I think that's a great partnership for us, but it's also the type of people that we want to have in our organization," Miller said. "In a general sense, we want to make sure we're supporting the community that we're in. In more of a specific sense, we tend to target events and organizations that bring people and pets together. Beyond that, we look for other areas in need."
Hartwell resident Stacey Craft has been a forklift operator for the company since distribution began in May. He expressed his delight for his new job.
"I'm glad they came to Hartwell," Craft said. "There are really no factories here. A lot of people in Hartwell are going out of town to work and they gave the Hart County community a chance to stay at home to work."
Purina is currently looking for mechanics operators, facilitators, forklift drivers and coordinators, among other positions. For a complete list of available jobs, visit purinajobs.com/hartwell and create a job profile.
"We are going to be the most versatile manufacturing facility to date," Miller said. "And so we've created different types of roles. The type of person that we're looking for can really grow with the organization and, depending on their learning agility, they can continue to grow and move throughout the business. I think it's important for people to know that we're going to invest back."
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