By Teresa Auch
MARION CHRONICLE TRIBUNE
MATTHEWS - When the Matthews Feed and Grain mill built its current building in 1996, Brantt Huston said, he never envisioned the plant's future success.
"Honestly, when we built the mill 10 years ago, where our business is at and where the livestock is at, I never thought I'd see this day," said Huston, director of sales and feed mill operations.
The day Huston is referring to is Aug. 14, when construction starts on a $2 million expansion to the mill that will quadruple production capabilities.
The current mill, 928 S. Massachusetts Ave., Matthews, can handle about 1,000 tons of feed a week. After the addition, it will be able to handle about 4,000 tons a week. Broken down to a daily basis, it's 10 tons vs. 40 tons. Huston said he does not expect to hire more labor because the machines will be automated.
The extra capabilities are needed for the large growth in business.
Production at the mill has doubled in the past two years, Huston said, and he expects to double again in the next few years.
"We have no room to take on any more business, and we've got more farms going up in the area," Huston said.
East Central Indiana has become a popular place for pork farms because of the low cost of corn and the nearness to the East Coast, said Chris Hurt, Purdue University professor of agriculture economics. Companies from North Carolina and Pennsylvania are in the process of building farms in the area.
"Remember, the corn belt extends over to about Columbus, Ohio. You don't go a whole lot farther east before you really begin to get out of the corn belt," Hurt said.
The farms then want to use local feed mills to cut down on costs of fuel and transportation, he said.
Efforts by Gov. Mitch Daniels to double agriculture business in Indiana also have helped to generate interest in the area, Hurt said.
"You can pretty well be assured when somebody like the governor says, 'We like hogs,' you're going to have people come and look because no other governor is saying that," he said.
The growth in agriculture translates into positive news for Grant County, said Tim Eckerle, director of the Grant County Economic Growth Council.
"(Agriculture) has always been a great wealth generator," Eckerle said.
Matthews resident Kevin Orr, who owns Cap Convenience Store, next to the mill, hopes the mill's expansion will also be good for his store.
He said his business has slowed down because of higher gas prices. Orr said, however, that he will see more business coming in from work crews once construction begins.
"That will definitely help my business here," Orr said.
Construction on the expansion will take about six months to complete, Huston said. When done, production will immediately increase by a couple hundred tons a week, well below the new expansion's capabilities, he said. However, the mill is already in talks with to provide feed for more farms.
"We're hopefully building the future into this so we can continue to grow," he said.