United States Department of Agriculture officials presented Sunland Inc. President Jimmie Shearer with a $450,000 check on Friday in an effort to expand the business and purchase new equipment.
“It’s a dream come true,” an ecstatic Schearer said. “It can only happen in America. This (Sunland Inc.) was once a farm field. There was nothing here. It’s basically owned by local farmers.”
Schearer said Sunland Inc. is owned by 12 local farmers, himself and Sunland Inc. Vice President Paul Newsom.
“The way we look at it is, we did it because of partnerships,” Schearer said. “The USDA helped us in 1990 and they helped us again today. Jerry (Partin, Roosevelt County Electric Coop. manager) helped us expand our plant. Peanut butter equipment is not inexpensive.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a $450,000 loan package and Sunland officials will be entering into a 1.7 million dollar expansion project which includes the construction of a 40,000-square-foot building for the new equipment. The Sunland Inc. plant is located approximately two miles east of Portales next to Highway 70. The new building will be located west of the Sunland Inc. plant.
“I was working on President Bush’s speech with his writers and staff for his speech on Thursday in Iowa,” Art Garcia, Administrator for Rural Housing Service. “He (Bush) has keyed in on rural development. He’s very focused on rural opportunities.”
Bush appointed Garcia, whose office is located in Washington D.C., in 2002 as the administrator for Rural Housing Service.
Schearer said the expansion will create 14 new jobs in the new building. Sunland Inc. currently has one manufacturing line for making peanut butter. Sunland Inc. officials will purchase an additional manufacturing line to make peanut butter, which officials said will cause a 200 percent increase in capacity.
Schearer said the 14 new people will be management supervisors, maintenance workers and laborers in charge of the new building and equipment.
Jeff Condrey, director of the agriculture department’s rural development office in New Mexico, said Sunland Inc. will use the zero-interest loan to buy the new peanut processing equipment.
In order to receive the loan, Schearer had to go through Roosevelt County Electric. Condrey said the Rural Business-Cooperative Services program works in partnership with the private sector and the community-based organizations to provide financial assistance.
Roosevelt County manager Jerry Partin said the application was sent off in February. He also said $450,00 was the maximum amount of money they could apply for.
“They (USDA Rural Development officials) score the application based on the employees, demographics of the area,” Partin said. “There are seven or eight different categories the application is based on.”
The new building will also contain a small cooler room to chill the day’s peanut butter production, a small mechanical room to will house the electrical and chilling equipment and a small area for the production of peanut candies, according to a Sunland Inc. packet. The new building will also have an open area with shelves for storing products and supplies on pallets.
Sunland Inc., a New Mexico owned company, was started in 1988 and is the largest Valencia variety peanut processor in the United States, according to Schearer. Ninety percent of all Valencia peanuts in the United States are grown within 130 miles of Portales.
The Sunland Inc. facility is currently working at least 16 hours per day, five days a week, according to the Sunland Inc. packet. There have been several weeks in the last year when the facility has been operational for seven days per week for 20 hours to try to get the orders out.
Schearer said he hopes to have the new building up by the end of June and have it running by the end of September.