Food and agriproducts giantCargill Incorporated, Minneapolis, said itsU.S. meatsbusiness plans by June 2011 to build a $14.7 million culinary center and pilot plant in Wichita, Kan., where that division is located.

Officials say the 75,000-square-foot facility will house research, development, culinary, laboratory, pilot plant and distribution activities.

"We are delighted that we could work with Mayor Brewer's office to create a mutually beneficial scenario in which we will be able to develop a cutting-edge food innovation facility and keep 65 jobs in Wichita," said Jody Horner, president of Cargill's U.S. meat business. "Our preference has always been to develop a new innovation center here and, over the past few months, all of the necessary elements properly aligned to allow that to happen. This is good for Wichita, it is good for Cargill and its customers, and it is definitely good for our employees."

Horner said the new facility replaces a 210,000-square-foot building at 2901 North Mead, which is in an industrial area and was once a meat processing plant.  That property was acquired by Cargill in 1978, when it entered the meat business, and it was recently sold.

"There has been excellent cooperation among all of the interested parties to ensure this project gets done in Wichita," said Scott Eilert, Cargill vice president and director of meat technology development.  "This has been a joint effort between Cargill, the city, Sedgwick county, state of Kansas, Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, JP Weigand commercial properties, all of which have risen to the occasion to make certain we were collectively able to maintain our focus and move this project forward.  This is an exciting project and those of us who have had the privilege to work on it appreciate what we are about to create in downtown Wichita."

Eilert said the research and development labs focus on food safety and quality. Meanwhile, Cargill's culinary kitchens are used for the development of new product offerings as well as the utilization of Cargill products by retail and foodservice customers. The pilot plant allows operational and technical teams to develop new products and to evaluate new meat-producing technologies that could potentially be employed at the company's full-size plants throughout the U.S. and Canada.  Also included in the project is a food distribution center for the local area, primarily serving smaller grocery stores.

"At Cargill, we continuously strive to produce the highest-quality, safest meat products our customers can find, and the Cargill Innovation Center will help us ensure we deliver on this commitment," said Horner.