DAVE CLINE

In the near future, Houston will be home to a sizable dairy products manufacturing plant.

Dairymen’s Best Creamery will be located in a 30,000 square-foot building owned by the Houston Industrial Development Authority (IDA). The facility, which formerly housed a countertops manufacturing business, is located on the north end of the Houston Industrial Park off Industrial Drive. Plant manager Dave Cline said he hopes the new business can begin operation sometime next month.

“Our hope is to have been inspected by the state milk board and be certified by the middle of March,” Cline said. “Some of our labeling won’t be done such that all of our products won’t come online at one time, but some will in March and some will in April.”

A native of northwest Missouri, Cline has 37 years of experience in the dairy products field and has helped start up four other smaller plants. He said almost all aspects of the Houston plant’s construction are being performed by local contractors, including erecting and covering interior walls, installing electrical and plumbing equipment, and more.

Milk used at the plant will come from producers in the area via Dairymen’s Marketing Co-op Inc., a distributor in Mountain Grove that has been in business since 1996. Cline said production during the plant’s initial stages will include making cheeses and yogurt, but many more products will follow.

“Our main objectives will be cheese, yogurt, sour cream and butter,” he said. “We won’t be into the fluid end of things at the beginning, but we have many people who have expressed interest in having us do that.”

At the outset, Cline said the plant will produce three flavors of cheese curds, along with Havarti, gouda, Monterey Jack, pepper jack and other cheeses. The plant will start operation with 18-20 employees, but Cline said there should be many more before long.

“If we get the contracts we’re hoping to get and we need to get, we’ll be to 60 people very soon,” he said.

The Dairymen’s Best project has been in the works for about three years. It was made possible in large part by strategic and generous moves made by the IDA, which provided funding for refurbishing the building’s interior and a favorable long-term lease agreement.

“We own the building over there, and we were in a position to help them get it ready,” said Houston Economic Development Director Ron Reed. “We’re excited that it’s now to the point where the renovations will soon be done and they can go to work making product.”

“I want to stress how much the city has helped us,” Cline said. “Without the city – especially the IDA – we couldn’t have done it and this wouldn’t be happening. They have put a massive amount of time and energy into this, and they actually came to us and offered us this facility.”

Dairy producers also had a major hand in making the plant a reality, by putting up money to guarantee payment on USDA Rural Economic Loan and Grant funding (also known as the REDLG, or “red leg” program).

“They’re technically the owners of this plant and we’re their middle man to sell the product,” Cline said. “It’s also true that without the producers, this wouldn’t have happened –– they put up the money to back this and guarantee it.”

Cline hopes Dairymen’s Best will not only be a place that helps existing local producers, but actually leads to the creation of more.

“Texas County used to be one of the largest dairy producing areas in Missouri –– and probably the United State,” he said. “This plant will hopefully bring more dairies back to the community.”

Reed said the project presented numerous “ground-breaking” obstacles and challenges, and a lot of learning went into the plant’s fruition. But he said its existence will allow area producers to count on a stable price for their milk, and like Cline, he hopes it will cause more dairies to pop up in Texas County.

“By offering a good price for their milk, we hope to also offer the incentive for others to get involved in dairy production,” Reed said. “Of course, it begins with setting up good contracts in the beginning, which is all part of the process.

“But there’s a lot of potential here. This thing could really grow into a large industry for our area.”

Cline said the community theme is really what drives the whole project.

“Our farmers are local, and we want everything to be local,” he said. “We’re not going to do a lot of automation so we can employ lots of people, and we want a personal touch on all of our products. If we do get big enough that we need to do some automation, everyone who’s here will stay on and we’ll grow from there.

“There’s a big demand in this industry now for local product. That’s what this is all about.”

Cline said determining where Dairymen’s Best products will be sold is still in the works, but the Houston plant will feature an on-site retail store featuring numerous products, including specialty items that won’t be available elsewhere.

“We’ll have things like ice cream and ice cream sandwiches, flavored butters and all kinds of other things,” Cline said. “And we’re the kind of plant that’s small enough to customize things for our customers to a certain extent, so if an order is right we can do that for people. But we’re still working on our distribution channels. We’ve contacted some schools and they’ve said we can get into their systems, and we’re working with some big companies, but we’re still in the baby steps stage of our sales end.”

Once Dairymen’s Best opens its doors, Cline said the task of building familiarity will begin.

“People don’t know who we are and we have to brand ourselves,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can. We’ll be at the local farmers market giving away samples. We’ll have schools come to the plant for tours and samples. We’re going to do a lot of neat things.

“When it’s all said and done, this should be something the community should be very proud of.”

For more information, call Dairymen’s Best Creamery at 417-967-0294, or email Cline at davec@dairymensbcc.com.

“There is a lot of potential here. This thing could really grow into a large industry for our area.”

– CITY OF HOUSTON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR RON REED

•Named Dairymen’s Best Creamery.

•Will produce cheese, yogurt, sour cream, butter and more. On-site retail store will feature numerous products.

•Dairy producers guaranteed start-up funding obtained through “red leg” program.

•Located in the building that formerly housed a countertops manufacturing business in Houston Industrial Park.

•Hopes to employee 60 people “soon.”

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