WESTFIELD — Marquette County-based chicken processor Brakebush Brothers celebrated the opening of a new production line Friday and now faces the challenge of filling 120 new positions.
Company Chairman Carl Brakebush welcomed visitors made up of representatives from all levels of government, partner contractors and Brakebush family as the company unveiled Line 9.
“This has been in the works for over a year and we just started production about two weeks ago,” Brakebush Marketing Manager Steve Ross said prior to the event. “We have been working one shift to begin with and we’ll be able to kick out about 25 million pounds (per year) with the one shift and then hopefully with time we’ll be able to do a second shift.”
In the main conference room of the company’s Westfield headquarters, Brakebush started at the beginning, with family photos dating back to 1925. According to Brakebush lore, founder Otto Brakebush said, “We only wanted to give people some work and it turned out we could make some money doing this.”
The company evolved from a transportation business, Carl Brakebush said, flipping from a picture of “Otto and the horses” to the “Sugar Shack.” Brakebush explained that it was important to ship loads in each direction; the company used to haul sugar from the South to the high-demand territory of Wisconsin, where during Prohibition, sugar was needed to distill alcohol.
Although he did not confirm any illicit associations, Brakebush said it might stand to reason given the time and the rural backwoods of Marquette County.
More recently, Brakebush Transportation delivered Christmas trees from Silent Night Evergreens in Endeavor to the White House, where they were received by Melania and Barron Trump.
Brakebush President Scott Sanders described the building project.
“The plant looks modest from the front,” Sanders said. “But it is substantial.”
The company invested about $45 million in the development of a new production line that, viewed from above, appeared to more than double the area of the current headquarters.
“The food service industry is growing an average of 3 percent, but we’ve been growing faster than that over the last three years,” Ross said of the company’s market, in which it delivers chicken products largely to restaurants, catering services, schools and the military. “So this is just giving us more opportunities to grow our business with food service accounts like restaurants, colleges, health care, convenience stores and supermarkets.”
Among the company’s clients are all five military academies, the University of Wisconsin and KFC. Five years ago, the company opened another plant in Irving, Texas, and a year ago, a facility in Wells, Minnesota.
“I didn’t think we would have 1,000 (employees) and now we have more than that,” Brakebush said. Now that nearly 50,000 square feet have been added, total production space has reached almost 600,000 square feet, he said.
“Right now, we’re looking for employees and Marquette County is tough. It’s tough to keep them in this area. We’re working with the schools and tech centers to get so people know we’re here,” Brakebush said. The company has added a wellness center, with a part-time trainer and a staff doctor, which Brakebush said he hoped to see extended to family care.
“We’re trying to make it comprehensive to take care of those kinds of needs — so we’re trying to make it a family and keep it a family with those benefits,” Brakebush said. “It’s a great feeling. You saw all the contractors — 35 businesses were involved — and I didn’t even think about that before, but look at what they brought. They’re bringing their people in and have to buy things to do what they need and hopefully they’re getting that from Wisconsin, so that’s good stuff.”