171116 Gemstone Foods

A man walks through the parking lot of the new Gemstone Foods in Florence. The company, which is based in Jackson, Mississippi, has a plant in Decatur. [MATT MCKEAN/TIMESDAILY]

FLORENCE — For the first time in nearly three years, there's activity at the old Hillshire Farms processing plant located on South Seminary Street.

The facility has been purchased by Gemstone Foods LLC, which has an operation and headquarters in Decatur, and is owned by an equity company in Jackson, Mississippi.

Workers are in the process of remodeling 75,000 square feet of production space at the Florence plant.

According to Susan Segars of Q Communications Inc. of Roswell, Georgia, plans call for the plant to be fully operational by early January.

She said Gemstone Foods is working with the Shoals Career Center and Alabama Industrial Development Training on job applications and placement.

“It’s my understanding that they will have 150 employees by the end of January, and then another 150 by the end of March,” said Florence Mayor Steve Holt. “That’s 300 jobs, which is good news for the area.”

Holt said the company is putting a major investment into the old industrial plant that includes new equipment.

“This is a totaling different operation than what Hillshire had,” he said of the chicken processing operation.

Segars said Gemstone is specifically a “processing company” with “no onsite killing.”

She said the company is a “protein processor” with multiple plant operations, specializing in custom portioning and packaging for some of the nation’s largest fast food chains and suppliers.

Segars said the addition of the Florence facility will significantly expand Gemstone’s capacity and allow the company to grow by expanding on business with partnered companies, expanding capacity and diversified an expanded product mix.

Holt said it will be good to see activity at the old plant.

Hillshire Farms employed 1,100 people when it closed in 2014.

“We have a lot of employees who worked at Hillshire that went to work in other areas. Hopefully, already trained individuals may be able to come back and again work here,” the mayor said.

Courthouse records indicate the plant was purchased in February.

The mayor said the city and the Shoals Economic Development Authority have been working with Gemstone Foods since December 2016.

“We’ve had talks about utility usage and what they will be needing supplied to the plant for the operation,” Holt said. “It’s been a long process, but it has ended well.

“We’re excited about having Gemstone here," said the mayor. "This is going to be a nice addition to our community.”

tom.smith@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5757. Twitter @TD_TomSmith.

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