Government funds help Sunland expansion

By Argen Duncan: PNT Senior Writer

Sunland Inc. is expanding with help from a government incentive program and plans to introduce a new peanut butter flavor and line of peanut products in the coming months.

The expansion will create at least 40 jobs over the next four years.

Work began Wednesday to connect Sunland to the city of Portales sewer system, which is important to the expansion. Interim City Manager Tom Howell said a strip of land one lot deep and about a mile long from Sunland west to Kilgore Street would be annexed to the city.

The state Economic Development Department contributed $156,000 to the project, with the city putting in $52,000, Howell said. Sunland CEO Jimmie Shearer said his company is paying about half of the cost.

To get the government money, Shearer said, Sunland committed to increasing its staff from 120 to 160 employees.

“Being a company that buys from the farmers and finishes the product to a retail-ready, award-winning (product), we really anticipate that we’ll increase staff by more than the 40 committed,” he said. “We’re constantly looking at new products that we make available to our customers, and we’ll be adding another peanut butter flavor to our already extensive list in the near future.”

Also, Shearer said Sunland is changing the production line to accommodate the new peanut products. Both the new peanut butter flavor and the line of products should come out in the next couple of months, he said, but he wouldn’t reveal details about them yet.

As for the added jobs, Shearer said they would encompass all positions in the business.

The company has already begun hiring. Shearer said the new employees would probably be local residents.

Shearer expects the sewer line project, which is in progress on U.S. 70 near its intersection with Spruce Street, to take three to four weeks.

As part of the expansion, Shearer expects to construct new buildings, most likely starting no earlier than next year.

“We’re out of space today,” he said.

Shearer expects to use the new buildings for storage and thereby free space in existing facilities for equipment.

The planning and fundraising for the sewer project started almost a year ago, he said, because Sunland’s current wastewater management system is very expensive. Some of the wastewater is removed by people dealing with the septic tank, and some is applied to crops.

Money saved in disposing of wastewater becomes available for expansion, which is driven by customer desires, Shearer said.

Sunland has worked with Roosevelt County Economic Development Corp. on the sewer line project.

“The expansion of Sunland is important because it provides job opportunities where we’re taking our agriculture products and turning them into value-added products,” Roosevelt County Economic Development Corp. Director Greg Fisher said.

Fisher said his organization is proud of Sunland and glad to help the company because it’s a significant expansion and a great way to sustain agriculture.

Howell said the annexation allows for more possible economic development, which would bring in more tax money and jobs.