'Project X' is Ben E. Keith distribution center

An artist's rendition of the new Ben E. Keith distribution center coming to Coffee County

“Project X will have a name June 26,” is what Coffee County Commissioner Jim Thompson told those attending the Republican Women of Coffee County meeting June 19.

Thompson was referring to a city-county-state-business partnership project some nine months in the making. “Coffee County and the city of Enterprise are working together better, in my opinion, than they ever have,” Thompson said. “We’ve come a long way.”

Wednesday, June 26, Gov. Kay Ivey officially announced that Ben E. Keith plans to invest $100 million to open an advanced distribution center and establish a Southeast Regional Headquarters near and in New Brockton.

Construction on the new facility is expected to begin by December 2019 with a completion date of December 2021.

Coffee County purchased some 256 acres on Highway 84 two weeks ago for $6,000 an acre, Thompson said. The Ben E. Keith project will include some 115 acres of that land, which is near the company’s current manufacturing and distribution facility that employs more than 140 in Elba.

The new 500,000 square foot facility is expected to create 82 jobs over the next five years and is designed for future expansions of up to 850,000 square feet.

“Coffee County is proud to continue our relationship with Ben E. Keith and honored to serve as the site of their Southeast Regional Headquarters,” said Coffee County Commission Chairman Dean Smith. “It is always gratifying when our existing corporate partners make such a substantial new investment in our community.

“Ben E. Keith has been an outstanding corporate citizen and their expanded presence in Coffee County will provide a significant number of excellent job opportunities for our citizens,” Smith said.

Thompson agreed. “Ben E. Keith has several locations throughout the Southeast and we have had the opportunity to tour one of the facilities,” Thompson said. “I think that Coffee County is proud to have them as one of our partners.”

“We welcome the decision by Ben E. Keith, one of the nation’s largest family owned distribution companies, to significantly expand its presence in Alabama with a new, state-of-the-art facility in Coffee County,” Ivey said in making the announcement June 26. “The investment in the New Brockton facility will not only create good jobs in that community but also provide a springboard for this first-rate company to continue to grow in Alabama.”

The Fort Worth, Texas-based company came to the Wiregrass through the acquisition Sept. 20, 2016 of family-owned Kelley Foods in Elba.

“When we acquired Kelley Foods in 2016 we saw it as our gateway to expand in the Southeast to better serve new and existing customers and to uncover new opportunities,’ said Ben. E. Keith Foods President Mike Sweet. “We are deeply committee to the communities of Alabama in which we live, work and serve and we look forward to many more years of shared success.”

Established in Elba in 1956, Kelley Foods was a privately owned food distributor and manufacturer serving and distributing food and food related products to over 2,000 customers across Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Kelley also owned a manufacturing division in Elba that produced a line of smoked hams, sausage and other value added food products. “Kelley Foods and Ben E. Keith Foods have company visions, values and missions which are almost identical to each other,” Kelley President and Chief Executive Officer Eddie Kelley said at the time of the sale in 2016.

Ben E. Keith, established in 1906, has 4,800 full-time employees at its locations in the United States and sells more than 20,000 different food and beverage products.

Coffee County recently enacted a 4-cent lodging tax—also known as a hotel tax because it is assessed to those who stay in hotels—to be used specifically for economic development endeavors. “We were one of the few counties in the state that did not have a lodging tax,” Thompson told those attending the RWCC meeting. “We will use that to pay off the land purchased for Project X.”

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