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Food firm's ambitious Hammond expansion expected to bring 330 jobs

Currently located in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., it will likely be April, 2016, before remodeling of the warehouse and offices will allow RDW to move its fruit and vegetable warehouse operations to Hammond. (Submitted photo).

Plans by a major food wholesaler to move large warehouse and food processing operations from two suburban Twin Cities locations to Hammond may mean up to 330 new jobs for the area over the next year.

Pat Miller, vice-president of Russ Davis Wholesale said last week the availability of the vacant Hammond Cold Storage complex, its proximity to I-94 and plenty of room for expansion offered the perfect recipe for the employee-owned company to grow its business.

"The building brought us there. It was just what we were looking for,” he said of the 130,000 square foot structure.

Although some of the deep-freeze capability won't be needed, the space can be renovated to fit RDW's needs.

It will likely be April 2016, before remodeling of the warehouse and offices will allow RDW to move its fruit and vegetable warehouse operations from Inver Grove Heights, Minn., to Hammond. That location currently hosts about 150 jobs. Miller expects some of the employees to relocate to Wisconsin.

The firm will also relocate a small tomato-repacking operation currently from Harris, Minn., to Hammond in a few months. That will bring about six more jobs and is expected to be the first activity once warehouse renovations are complete.

Meanwhile, the employee-owned firm hopes to break ground this spring to add a large food processing facility adjacent the existing warehouse. The structure will house people and equipment used to process fruits and vegetables for retail sale under Russ Davis Wholesale's "Crazy Fresh" label.

The product line includes a wide array of ready-to-eat items like vegetable and fruit trays, salsa and chips, veggies ready for the grill or skillet, yogurt parfaits and other value-added items.

Orders are received, cut-to-order at the Eagan facility and delivered the next day. That work will all move to Hammond.

The new building will include a demonstration kitchen and facilities to house the firm's professional chef and a demonstration team that travels to retail partner’s stores, providing customers with product samples, recipes and creating excitement about new "fresh" trends.

Although items on RDW's product list are sourced from across the globe, the firm boasts partnerships with dozens of local and regional growers. Miller said area vendors might sometimes deliver product to the Hammond facility themselves, or it may be picked up by a company truck returning from store deliveries.

"We're huge on local," said Miller. "We support all local growers, even helping them get their GAP (Good Agricultural Practice) certifications."

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP) are voluntary audits that verify that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored as safely as possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.

GAP and GHP audits verify adherence to the recommendations made in the FDA's Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables and industry recognized food safety practices.

The startup and growth of the business is likely to be noticed in Hammond and surrounding communities. Miller said he expects the move will have a positive effect on housing construction and the local economy.

The nature of their business makes RDW a 24/7 operation, Miller said. "We were only closed on Christmas and New Year's." He later noted they close for Easter as well.

Russ Davis Wholesale will also utilize the on-site truck service building on the Hammond property to tend its fleet of 120 vehicles. The 20,000 square foot facility includes a truck scale, six drive-through bays with floor pits, a drive-through wash and fueling station.

Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix Economic Development Corp., said his group's mission is to "connect business and industry with resources.” Once Rubin learned RDW was interested in the Hammond property, he reached out to its leadership and steered them to the state's economic development office, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

Rubin said the cold storage facility was first listed last spring through the Minneapolis office of commercial real estate broker CBRE. Rubin had occasion to do walk-throughs with several prospective buyers but wasn't directly involved with the RDW courtship.

Rubin said he wasn't aware of any potential bureaucratic hurdles that might get in the way of RDW's ambitious plans although, depending on what, if any, taxpayer-fund aid they may receive through WEDC, there may be contracts required to guarantee certain employment levels are met to receive tax credits, loans or other relocation assistance.

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.