Robert “Doug” Cooper, of Kansas City, Mo., the new president and CEO of New Angus LLC, the company trying to revive a troubled Aberdeen beef slaughter plant, says he expects his company to start processing animals sometime in 2015.
Cooper, 63, says New Angus, which was incorporated in South Dakota on May 5, is working on a plan that eventually would revive the former Northern Beef Packers plant. New Angus will process roughly 1,000 head of cattle per day and employ up to about 600 people, Cooper says.
Cooper and colleagues have been hired by White Oak Global Advisors to run the Aberdeen plant. White Oak Global is a San Francisco-based investment firm that had invested more than $35 million in Northern Beef Packers. In December 2013, White Oak bid $44 million to buy the Aberdeen facility, which cost more than $100 million to build and has been idled since 2012 when it declared bankruptcy.
Cooper has been associated with numerous U.S. and international beef projects. He was the founding president and CEO of Astana Group LLC, a group still based in Atlanta, Ga. Some of the same partners in Astana Group had operated Global Protein Group, a beef processing and marketing facility in Uruguay. They increased that plant’s production from 275 to 800 head in three years and sold the facility to a multinational Brazilian company in 2007 under a three-year noncompete contract clause.
In Aberdeen, Cooper is working with Jim Mitchell, former chief operating officer for Global Protein Group, and now the chief operating officer for the Aberdeen plant. Keith DeHaan, who lives in the Kansas City area but is originally of Platte, is the executive chairman.
’80s, ’90s and now
Cooper has been involved in beef projects since the 1980s, when he worked in a branded beef project in Sheboygan, Wis., for the Kohler Co. In the 1990s, he was founding president and CEO of PM Beef Group, in Windom, Minn., which developed into an integrated beef company with six business units, 800 employees and annual sales of more than $400 million.
In 2010, Cooper and the Astana Group were hired to manage Keystone Processors near Winnipeg, Manitoba. Keystone Processors formed in 2003 to try to reopen the former Maple Leaf Foods hog processing plant and convert it to a provincially licensed beef facility in St. Boniface, Manitoba, near Winnipeg.
The project was eventually shelved.
DeHaan is known to the region’s beef producers because he was chief executive of Dakota Beef Cooperative in Mandan, N.D., a nonprofit created in 2000 to hold intellectual assets of Northern Plains Premium Beef, a group that tried twice in the 1990s and failed to raise sufficient funds to build a large packing plant in the region.
Producers in the region seem hopeful and curious about the latest effort in Aberdeen.
On Aug. 7, Cooper hosted a 15-member delegation he’d invited from the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association. The NDSA board and its feeder council toured the Aberdeen plant and met key individuals.
“As a beef organization, we’re looking for an opportunity to further process cattle in his region, in close proximity to our state,” says Julie Ellingson, NDSA executive vice president.
Meanwhile, the Northern Beef Packers plant remains in political mystery and controversy. South Dakota Democratic legislators have called for subpoenas to question top political officials about state economic development efforts involved in the company.
Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, D-Yankton, tells Agweek a group of Democratic legislators has asked that South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, former Gov. Mike Rounds and others be subpoenaed. Hunhoff and colleagues say the state Legislature’s Government Operation and Audit Committee has until December to get answers, but so far hasn’t made sufficient progress.
The Governor’s Office of Economic Development is under scrutiny because its former commissioner Richard Benda, now deceased by suicide, is alleged to have double-billed the state on some expenses and directed $550,0000 in economic money to personal use.
The facility was tied to South Dakota Certifi ed Beef initiative, which was designed to get premium prices for product trace-back. The project employed a federal EB-5 program, which allowed 70 Korean investors to achieve permanent U.S. residency in exchange for $500,000 investments.
“We’re not interested in criminal or civil cases that might have arisen,” Hunhoff says. “We’re trying to figure out what happened, and why it happened. The people of South Dakota have been very patient.”
Hunhoff emphasizes that everyone hopes that the plant can be restarted and will succeed.