Ben E. Keith Announces 74 Jobs, $60M Investment in NLR Facility

Food service products distributor Ben E. Keith said Tuesday that it will spend $60 million on a North Little Rock plant, adding 74 new jobs to its local workforce at an average wage of $33.75 per hour.

Company executives made the announcement with Gov. Mike Beebe at the state Capitol.

In a news release, the company, which already employs 260 in Little Rock, said it would invest the money in building a 300,000-SF facility that will be its Mid-South Regional Headquarters. Mike Roach, president of Ben E Keith Foods, said construction is expected to begin by mid-summer and take 18-20 months.

The expansion is helped along by a $1.5 million grant to the city of North Little Rock through the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration. The company is also getting $2.27 million from the governor's Quick Action Fund, and normal performance incentives for new jobs.

"We are delighted in the progress of our plans to construct this new state-of-the-art distribution center in North Little Rock," Mike Roach, Ben E. Keith Foods President, said. "We are excited about enlarging our base of operations in Arkansas, and this new center will allow us to greatly expand our product line and better serve our thousands of valued clients in this market."

The EDA grant will help North Little Rock purchase generators and other necessary equipment for installation along the major North Little Rock intersection of Highway 70 and I-440 where the facility will be located. In addition to serving the Ben E. Keith plant, the added energy capacity will also help other businesses that might locate nearby.

"This is truly an investment for the future," Matt Erskine, U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration deputy assistant secretary of commerce, said at the Tuesday announcement. "And it's an investment that is important to the continued revitalization of North Little Rock."

Roach said the new facility will be "semi-automatic" and will include some technology, such as cranes, to assist workers.

Based in Fort Worth, Texas, Ben E. Keith came to Arkansas in 1973 through the purchase of the Dillaha Fruit Co., founded by Theo A. Dillaha Sr.

The company's current location at the Port of Little Rock will be consolidated within the expansion. The North Little Rock expansion will allow Ben E. Keith Foods to continue to grow and expand its footprint, Roach said.

Beebe said multiple markets were in competition for the facility location, and was happy Arkansas was able to secure it.

"We're happy that [Ben E. Keith Foods] is still here and here in a bigger way than it was," he said.