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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Business) -- Stocks slightly lower Monday as investors sorted through discouraging economic data from China and Japan. In the absence of U.S. economic data, investors focused on news that China's exports slumped 18 percent in February. The report reinforced fears about the outlook for the world's second-largest economy.

New plant brings jobs to northeast Arkansas

There was some game-changing jobs news for northeast part of the state.

Peco Foods Inc. of Tuscaloosa, Ala., finally announcing plans for an integrated poultry processing operation in Randolph and Clay counties that will eventually employ 1,000 people.

Arkansas Business and THV 11 News told you about Peco's plans two weeks ago; Arkansas Business reported the earliest word on the plant in our print edition back in November.

Gov. Mike Beebe and company executives, including President and CEO Mark Hickman, officially announced the project during a news conference Monday morning.

The $165 million project will include a 255,000-SF processing plant and 73,000-SF hatchery in Pocahontas and a feed mill in Corning.

Groundbreaking on the first phase of the project is set for next month. Hickman said, "The timeline for the construction. We will need 12 months for the hatchery. We will need 18 months to get our feed mill up and running and we will need about 16 months to get our processing plant up and running."

Hickman said the average wages after a year of employment will be $10.86 an hour at the processing plant and $13 an hour at the mill.

The new facilities will also require contracts with 90 local, independent growers operating about 640 chicken houses.

All this is making the project a welcome addition to the local economy, which has been hurt by high unemployment. In December, Clay County's unemployment rate was 12.2 percent; Randolph County was 9.3 percent.

Chris Masingill, federal co-chairman of Delta Regional Authority said, "This expansion is truly another vote of confidence that we've got the workforce, the right infrastructure and the right business environment in Arkansas, in the delta region, to continue to make an impact on our local economies."

In all, the project is getting $4.5 million in incentives from the state and local governments.

Peco Foods already has operations in Batesville and Newport. It is the eighth largest poultry producer in the country.

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