Built bigger and capable of faster production, Performance Pet Products’ new expansion is finally complete.

Performance Pet held a grand opening ceremony for its new 150,000-square foot facility on East Havens Avenue in Mitchell, valued at $30 million, with more than 50 dignitaries and officials on hand Wednesday. The ceremony was held exactly two years after a groundbreaking ceremony kicked off construction.

The big building is the start of big plans for the company, said Kevin Hubbard, director of operations for Performance Pet in Mitchell. Hubbard started working in Mitchell two years ago, and was brought on to lead the expansion of the plant, which will be capable of producing up to 1,200 cans per minute and a capacity of 20 million cases of pet food per year.

“This is one of the most state-of-the-art canneries in the country, maybe in the world,” Farmers Union Industries CEO Dan Hildebrandt said. “It’s about as high tech as it can get.”

When the project was first planned in mid-2017, Performance Pet leaders planned a $17 million upgrade spanning 75,000-square feet. But the right mixture of available land and market conditions allowed for an opportunity, Hubbard and Hildebrandt said.

“When we bought this business, we knew we’d have to expand,” Hildebrandt said. “But a 150,000-square-foot addition wasn’t our first thought.”

Performance Pet has been owned since 2015 by Farmers Union Industries, or FUI, based in Redwood Falls, Minnesota. FUI is owned by Farmers Union Enterprises, which is made up of Minnesota Farmers Union, Montana Farmers Union, North Dakota Farmers Union, South Dakota Farmers Union and Wisconsin Farmers Union. Each of those organizations has a 20 percent share in Farmers Union Enterprises, which Hildebrandt said means there’s South Dakota leaders involved with the ownership of Performance Pet.

The new facility includes more automation and 10 top-line canning retorts, through which cans are cooked and sterilized. It includes X-ray technology that can spot any possible defects in cans before they are packed and shipped out. Before products go out the door, there is now an automated machine that can pack cases onto pallets, reducing the manual labor needed for loading. A can of pet food can be finished in three hours, Hubbard said, with a majority of that time being spent cooking.

The production building is 210 by 700 feet, measuring 147,000 square feet. About half of that — 70,000 square feet — is available for warehouse space. The new facility is twice the size of the current facility, which dates back nearly 90 years. Hildebrandt said the business won’t be at peak speed right away, but hopes to be producing 900 cans per minute, which will still be more than double what it currently does. The company will start running test cans today, and hopes to get production running soon.

The production facility takes up approximately half of the width of the building, making it easy to see room for possible expansion. The business is a contract packer, or co-packs, meaning it cans products for other pet food companies and Performance Pet does not have a private label of its own on shelves.

“This is the first large-scale expansion for a pet food production company in about 20 years,” Hubbard said. “We’ve been told by customers that they’re looking forward to this project, because they’re looking to grow.”

Leaders of the Mitchell Area Development Corporation — past director Bryan Hisel and current leader Mark Vaux — both acknowledged that the pet food facility expansion could have been done elsewhere, but thanked business leaders for believing in the community.

“There was a lot of competition — both in South Dakota and elsewhere — for this project, but we’re glad that Performance Pet decided to expand in Mitchell,” said Hisel, who joked his file regarding the project was 3 to 4 inches thick.

In 2017, FUI applied to the city to build its expansion at its warehouse site at 1801 Van Dyke Dr., which is along Interstate 90. The plan received pushback from neighboring homeowners and businesses about the potential smell of the operation. FUI eventually relented on that plan, purchased more neighboring land at its current location and added the long white building to its site.

The project also received a $3.6 million low-interest loan from the South Dakota Board of Economic Development’s Revolving Economic Development and Initiative, or REDI, Fund in 2018. There are about 100 employees in Mitchell, and Hubbard said the expectation is it will add more in the future. The REDI application said about 30 jobs would be added.

Performance Pet planned to open the facility in late 2018, but Hubbard said construction and weather delays slowed down the project. He said the delays were worth it for the ultimate payoff for the company.

“Now we’ve got this building up, and now we know we have to fill it up,” he said.

The site has been the home to food production since 1931, when Hormel opened the facility for pork processing. Hormel closed the plant in 1978 prior to its purchase by Dakota Pork in 1980. The facility was expanded in 1992 before Dakota Pork closed the plant in 2006.

Performance Pet, which was founded in 2001, converted the Mitchell plant into pet food production in 2008, and FUI bought the business in 2015.