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Serving: KS

Hilmar Cheese is gettin’ the heck into Dodge

Photos courtesy of Hilmar Cheese Co. Cheddar and American-style cheeses
CHEESE AND WHEY: Hilmar Cheese Co. and its Hilmar Ingredients division serve customers in more than 50 countries. The company specializes in the production of cheddar and American-style cheeses used by private-label and national brand companies worldwide. The Hilmar Ingredients division manufactures and markets a wide range of whey protein and lactose products globally.
Hilmar Cheese Co. to open state-of-the-art production facility in Dodge City, Kan.

One might say it’s a cheesy line, but a new cheese and whey plant is getting the heck into Dodge City, Kan., this summer.

Hilmar Cheese Company Inc., Hilmar, Calif., announced May 5 that it has decided to build a new state-of-the-art cheese and whey protein processing plant in Dodge City this summer. The company made the announcement jointly with Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s office and Dodge City officials.

Investment in Kansas

“Our first-class workforce and central location make Kansas one of the best places in the nation to do business,” Kelly says. “It’s great to see another major food manufacturer like Hilmar choose to put their trust in our state and Dodge City for their newest facility.”

Hilmar Cheese Company logo
HILMAR CHEESE: Hilmar Cheese Co., Hilmar, Calif., announced May 5 it’s building a cheese and whey processing facility in Dodge City, Kan.

Hilmar is expected to break ground on the facility this summer and be fully operational in 2024. The $460 million facility, according to Hilmar, is expected to create 247 new jobs in the community. It’s expected to bring an additional $550 million in capital investment and 750 new jobs within a 50-mile radius of Dodge City by late 2023.

That would include employment at existing and new dairies in the area, investment in dairy expansions, transportation and more, according to Joann Knight, executive director of the Dodge City/Ford County Development Corp. Company spokespeople anticipate that milk for the Dodge City plant will be sourced from southwest Kansas dairies.

Ideal location

David Ahlem, Hilmar CEO and president, says Dodge City is an “ideal choice” given its central location, critical existing infrastructure, proximity to the growing local dairy industry and business-friendly climate. In the last 10 years, western Kansas has seen a growth in large dairies relocating from other states to the region, due to land and feedstock availability, and an available workforce.

According to the April 21 Kansas Milk Production report from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, Kansas milk production is trending upward. March milk production in the state topped 362 million pounds, up 3% from March 2020. The average number of milk cows was 175,000 head, 4,000 head more than a year ago. And milk production per cow is averaging 2,070 pounds.

Hilmar produces a variety of cheeses, and the whey is further processed into whey protein products that are used as ingredients in many foods, including nutritional beverages and bars; and lactose, which is marketed internationally as an ingredient in confections and infant formula.

Sustainable measures

Hilmar is a leader in sustainable practices and has adopted the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment and goal to achieve a net-zero dairy industry by 2050, according to the company release. The Dodge City facility will showcase state-of-the-art sustainable solutions.

“We want our plant to be as good for the environment as it will be for the local economy,” Ahlem says. “We’ll use technologies and sustainable practices to promote carbon neutrality.”

Nick Hernandez, Dodge City city manager, says Hilmar is a good fit for the city’s sustainability efforts.

“One of the biggest advantages for both Hilmar Cheese Co. and Dodge City is the cohesive nature of our sustainability efforts,” Hernandez says. “They have a standing commitment to being stewards of the environment, much like Dodge City; and through this mutually beneficial partnership, we will be able to further utilize our wastewater for crop irrigation and biogas production.”

In 2018, the city completed its Warrior Project Biogas facility, an anaerobic digester that produces raw biogas from wastewater from the nearby National Beef packing facility, and municipal waste.

Getting into Dodge

Hilmar Cheese Co. was established in 1984 by 12 local dairy farm families in the Central Valley of California. Privately owned, the company employs more than 1,500 residents near its facilities in California and Dalhart, Texas.

The project has been a collaboration among many organizations. The State of Kansas Department of Commerce, Department of Ag and Department of Transportation; the City of Dodge City, Ford County, Dodge City/Ford County Development Corp.; Black Hills Energy; Victory Electric; United Tel•Com; Dodge City Public Schools USD 443; Dodge City Community College; and area agricultural producers have helped bring the new business to the community.

“We greatly appreciate the warm welcome from the state of Kansas and the city of Dodge City officials, whose values of integrity and excellence closely align with ours,” Ahlem says. “Dodge City gives us many opportunities, including a local and skilled labor force, a supportive and expanding agricultural region, and an excellent transportation network that allows us to easily reach our expanding markets. We’re really happy with our decision and excited about becoming a part of this outstanding community.”

Hilmar Cheese Co. contributed to this article.

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