By Jeffery Smith jsmith@the-leader.com

CAMPBELL - Upstate Niagara Corp., expects to be operating the former Kraft Heinz plant in early August.

Jamie Johnson, executive director of the Steuben County Industrial Development Agency, said Upstate Niagara purchased the facility in late June to enter the cheese market, and fully intends on growing the facility.

“They are not going to overcommit,” Johnson said. “Publically (Upstate) is committed to 150 employees, and that’s where they want to be, but they fully intend to expand and exceed that number.”

Johnson said the Kraft Heinz plant currently has just over 300 full-time employees.

‘Were going to see some short-term layoffs,” Johnson said. “But we’re 150 employees ahead. The lights are on and they want to grow. I firmly believe in two to five years the plant won’t look like what’s there right now.

“It is a great company and we’re lucky to have them as a business partner.”

Legislator Robin Lattimer, R-Bath, agreed.

“The good news is they’re here for the long term,” Lattimer said.

Johnson called the agreement with Upstate Niagara, a company owned by about 380 dairy farmers, an investment into the future of the facility.

“I’ve said this before, if that plant went dark it would be dark for a long, long, long time,” Johnson recently told the Steuben County Agriculture, Industry and Planning Committee.

“I can’t tell you how close it was to becoming dark, and (Kraft Heinz) shutting the doors and walking away,” said Steuben County Legislature Chairman Joe Hauryski, R-Campbell. “This is really going from zero to 150 employees, not the other way around. We were very fortunate.”

Steuben County Legislator Robert Nichols, R-Tuscarora, said if Kraft Heinz would have shut the lights down at the plant they would probably never get back on.

“It would have probably ended up being torn down,” Johnson said.

Upstate Niagara and Kraft Heinz began negotiations in early 2017 and Upstate Niagara really pursued the agreement.

“I give them a lot of credit, because of the perseverance they were the winning bidder,” Johnson said. “This is a phenomenal company, way beyond anything I ever anticipated.”

Johnson said he realizes there is a concern about the milk market.

“That was one of the concerns we raised up to Upstate and they were very up front and said (they) aren’t going to bring milk from western Pa. and Buffalo to drive milk to the (facility) that is already here,” Johnson said. “There is going to be some shifting, and there is going to be some growing pains, but they understand it doesn’t make sense for them to ship milk in from some place else when it’s already right here.”

Nichols, who owns and operates a 700-acre farm in Tuscarora, said farmers’ co-ops, also known as agricultural cooperatives, often swap milk sales according to location.

“The more plants we have in the Northside the better off we are,” Nichols said.

Johnson said Upstate Niagara came into the discussion to purchase the former Kraft Heinz plant very late in the process. The company owns five other manufacturing plants in New York and one in Williamsport, Pa.

Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc., of Buffalo, products include milk, cream, butter, yogurt, half and half, egg nog, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream and chip dips. The company is owned by farmers throughout western New York State.

“We’re almost to the finish line,” Johnson said. “You know we’re going to get them across the finish line in the next few weeks.”