BOWDEN — Ground was broken Oct. 7 for a nearly $100 million, value-added agriculture processor which is expected to create about 120 jobs directly and indirectly during construction and 50 to 60 full-time jobs once production begins in the fall of 2023.
Those in attendance for the ceremony included Town of Bowden Mayor Robb Stuart, Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen, local MLA and provincial Agriculture and Forestry minister Devin Dreeshen and associate minister of economic development Nate Horner, along with several representatives of the company, More Than Protein Ingredients Ltd. (MTPI).
MTPI’s plant will be located in the southwest end of Bowden, across the railway tracks at 2012 19 Avenue.
It will take yellow peas from a 100-mile radius around Bowden, crank up the protein content to as high as about 85 per cent, then sell that product to manufacturers, who will turn it into plant-based meat, chicken and even fish-like products as well as noodles and fibre for animal food, according to MTPI chief executive officer Kevin McGeough.
During an interview with The Albertan, McGeough said the group has so far obtained about half the financing it needs to get the plant built and running and is about to embark on raising the remaining financing needed.
He said investors and industry partners have been attracted from as far away as Denmark.
McGeough said the company has bought an approximately 13-acre site from the Town of Bowden so far and is looking at an option to obtain more if necessary.
He said the fact that Bowden is situated between two major highways – Highway 2 and Highway 2A -- is a bonus, but the nearby railway tracks and a seed cleaning plant plus the fact it’s in the middle of a vast area from which yellow peas can be derived were the major factors.
He said engineering for the building is in its final stages. The ground will be prepared this fall for construction and construction will get underway in earnest this spring. The goal is to complete construction in the spring or summer of 2023, with production starting in the fall of 2023.
McGeough said the idea to get into the business began about five years ago, but organizers really became serious last November and work with the town and others began in earnest last May.
“We aggressively went out and went through the fundraising but at the same time simultaneously we started up our crop program,” McGeough said.
"It’s helped us on the investors’ side. A lot of people were in disbelief that we could move this quickly; literally since May 1.”
McGeough said down the road, the company, through a research and development arm, may look at creating other products.
He and other speakers thanked the Town of Bowden for fast-tracking approvals to make the project a reality.
“I invest and I had the opportunity to be part of a number of initiatives throughout Canada and throughout the Prairies and one of the problems that I find is municipalities are too damn slow and the amount of regulation is too much,” Okotoks-area investor Kim McConnell said in a speech later at the Paterson Community Hall.
“Yes, we have standards, but we’ve got to go quicker. And I commend you on how quickly you moved and I suspect that if you keep going, then the whole province and the whole country will benefit as a result of it,” he added, sparking applause.
Mayor Stuart welcomed the company to town.
“It is a pleasure to be in attendance at this event. I welcome More Than Protein to the town of Bowden and look forward to continuing our mutual beneficial relationship, even though it just got started here,” he said.
“I commend their vision, initiative and commitment to this project and I thank them for recognizing the benefits that Bowden provides, due to its geographic location and the amazing relationship we have with the county of Red Deer.”
During an earlier interview, Stuart described the decision by the company to locate in Bowden as “huge,” as it will provide an opportunity for employment as well as diversify the town’s tax base.
He confirmed that the town “fast-tracked” approvals to help the company locate in the community but stressed that no steps in the approval process were skipped, either by the town or Red Deer County.
During his speech, MP Dreeshen noted he had previously joked to a colleague that “I’m sort of a second-order vegetarian, as I prefer those things that have already eaten the plants.” That prompted some laughter.
“But nevertheless, there is this symbiotic nature that we have with all parts of our agriculture, and that I think is the really critical part that we have to recognize. This is exciting, what we are doing here,” he said.
Devin Dreeshen said his ministry has created an “investment dashboard” with a goal of creating a $1.4 billion, value-added industry in the province, just within agriculture.
“We're at about $886 million. Obviously we can tack on this almost $100 million project on to that list as well, just to go to show that it’s so important that we have these types of investments, that agriculture really is put on the map.”
He added that such industries are especially important for rural communities like Bowden and they help build on their agricultural history.