ADM opens huge flour mill in Mendota, replacing Chicago plant
MENDOTA -- Most years, the biggest event in the sleepy downstate community of Mendota, population 7,400, is August's sweet corn festival, which draws 60,000 people. This year, Del Monte Foods furnished 20 tons of corn for the event.
Ten days later, Del Monte announced it is closing the 70-year-old packing plant, one of the town's biggest employers, leading to the loss of 130 full-time jobs and about 350 seasonal jobs.
While the town 85 miles west of Chicago is in the middle of corn country, wheat is destined to play a role in its future.
On Wednesday, Archer Daniels Midland Company celebrated the opening of the largest flour mill ever built from the ground up in North America. The sprawling mill sports its own railroad overpass rising above a looping track that enables it to unload 110-car grain trains in 15 hours.
It's quite a departure from the 122-year-old mill it replaces in Chicago's rapidly redeveloping Fulton Market area, just west of the Loop. That landlocked mill is set on a single city block. Once production fully transitions to the new plant, the old one will close and the land, a few blocks from McDonald's new world headquarters, will be sold for redevelopment, said Kevin Like, president of ADM Milling.
The new mill has twice the volume of the old one, able to produce 15 tons of flour a day, enough to fill 15 rail cars or 60 semis per day. It will operate around the clock with 30 to 40 employees, compared to the 60 employees who worked in Chicago, some of whom are transferring to Mendota or moving to other ADM operations.
"This high-tech mill offers unparalleled advantages, including the most up-to-date monitoring and quality-control equipment; swift and efficient packing and transportation options; and the ability to mill a wide array of wheat varieties to ensure we are meeting the needs of all of our customers across the Midwest," Like said in a news release.
The mill will sell varieties of flour made from hard wheat, spring wheat and soft wheat sourced from different areas around the Midwest to the wholesale trade. ADM mills supply about a fifth of the North American flour market, Like said.
Looking at the town's gains and losses, Katie Fox, CEO of the Mendota Chamber of Commerce, said "they weigh each other out."
And the sweet corn festival, looking forward to its 73rd year, will continue, she promises.
"We're exploring other options for sweet corn," Fox added.