I think we need to talk out in the hall—New Angus CEO Doug Cooper (far left) and executive chairman Keith DeHaan (far right) consider what they'll say on the record to Brown County Commission on their effort to resurrect the former Northern Beef Packers processing plant in Aberdeen, SD, 2015.02.17.

I think we need to talk out in the hall.... New Angus CEO Doug Cooper (far left) and executive chairman Keith DeHaan (far right) consider what they'll say on the record to Brown County Commission on their effort to resurrect the former Northern Beef Packers processing plant in Aberdeen, SD, 2015.02.17.

Walk into a room with a press tag and a tripod, and the first thing New Angus officials will say to you is, "We're not giving interviews at this time." Ask to record their comments to the Brown County Commission about their plan to reopen the former Northern Beef Packers processing plant, and the first thing they'll ask for is an executive session.

Brown County Commission, prior to meeting, Aberdeen, SD, 2015.02.17

Brown County Commissioners prepare for the excitement of the New Angus briefing and local blog coverage, Aberdeen, SD, 2015.02.17

New Angus CEO Doug Cooper and executive chairman Keith DeHaan came to this morning's Brown County Commission meeting at the courthouse in Aberdeen to update commissioners on their progress toward processing beef on the south side of town. Cooper and DeHaan seemed to think that their update, listed on the agenda as a public item item and recorded like every Brown County Commission meeting for posting on YouTube, would be a confidential matter. Alerted to the presence of a local blogger and the commission's own camera, Cooper and DeHaan indicated they'd prefer to speak in executive session. Commission chairman Duane Sutton said the commission could consider that. I asked Commissioner Sutton if the New Angus update would fall under any of the exceptions for legal or contractual matters that allow public boards to close their meetings. Commissioner Sutton said he'd check with the state's attorney.

Ten minutes later, the meeting began, and it remained open.

Among the highlights of these public comments:

  • CEO Cooper sticks with previous projections to reopen the plant this year. He says if the plant doesn't open in 2015, he and DeHaan "probably be sitting here, because it means we didn't get it done. It's not anybody's fault but ours. We accept that." Cooper declines to give an exact date, because he says that disclosing an exact date could "send a wrong signal" that would cause producers to make decisions and investments that could cost them thousands of dollars. "We're trying to fill a bucket with credibility and not drain it in one shot." To that last comment, one commissioner replied, "That would be something new for out there."
  • CEO Cooper says the plant was set up properly and was USDA-inspected. He says New Angus is only making minor changes to accommodate the production plans dictated by their current market analysis.
  • Commissioner Doug Fjeldheim asked if New Angus is primarily targeting the export market. CEO Cooper said yes, primarily Asia, although the Canadian and Mexican beef markets are also open and cheaper to export to. Cooper says Brown County has "the finest cattle in the world" and that the Asian market is particularly hungry for marbled beef younger than 30 months.
  • Commissioner Sutton asked if New Angus plans to operate at the 1500-head-per-day capacity. Cooper said yes: "That's what the engineer plate says."
  • Commissioner Rachel Kippley said a lot of folks come into her tax office who worked for Northern Beef Packers, have stuck around Aberdeen doing other jobs, and are ready to go back to work at the plant when New Angus opens. DeHaan said the handful of staff they've brought in say they know others around the community who are ready to come back to work when the plant reopens.
  • Chairman DeHaan notes that he looks forward to discussing cattle deals with Commissioner Kippley and her husband Jeff. No conflict of interest there when time comes to check on the beef plant's compliance with zoning and environmental regulations or to spend county dollars on road upgrades around the plant....
  • CEO Cooper said he doesn't know what happened in Northern Beef Packers' operations, but he says New Angus's operations are "going to be transparent." Looking forward to that transparency, I presented my card to Mr. Cooper and said that I'll be happy to come for a tour of the plant when he and DeHaan are ready to give interviews.