Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration Opens in Farmville, NC

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Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration held its grand opening yesterday in Farmville, NC. The sweet potato processing operation is located in the former Collins & Aikman building on West Marlboro Road. To date more than $16 million has been invested in the project.

Farmville, NC – October 1, 2014 – Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration held its grand opening yesterday in Farmville, NC. The sweet potato processing operation is located in the former Collins & Aikman building on West Marlboro Road. To date more than $16 million has been invested in the project.

Natural Blend will be managed by Ham Produce Company, Inc., which operates one of the largest farming operations of sweet potatoes in North Carolina. NC is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the US. In 2012 the state produced 12,400 Cwt of sweet potatoes. Agriculture is the number one industry in NC with a nearly $80 billion impact.

Ham Produce, headquartered in Snow Hill, NC, purchased the Collins & Aikman building in 2009 for the storage of sweet potatoes. Excess capacity of approximately 27,000 square feet has been renovated for Natural Blend Vegetable Dehydration’s processing of sweet potatoes to be used in various pet food products. Natural Blend processes 30,000 lbs. of raw product per hour and churns out 120,000 lbs. of finished goods every 24 hours.

“I’m excited to have the construction phase of the project coming to completion and I’m looking forward to working with the growers,” said Bobby Ham, president of Ham Produce Company, Inc. “We were happy to be able to utilize local contractors on this project.” 

The company already employs 30 and has plans to reach over 50 at an average salary of $38,000. “The support we received from Pitt Community College (PCC) and the NC Commerce Workforce Division has been invaluable in recruiting and training our current staff,” said Stacy Ham, Vice President, Ham Produce Company, Inc.

Through its partnership with PCC, Natural Blend was able to secure some its workforce from the Eastern Carolina Vocational Center (ECVC). ECVC provides employment opportunities for people with disabilities, a much underutilized segment of the work force. 

“Our partnership with PCC (NCWorks Customized Training) helped create such opportunities with Natural Blend. PCC introduced us early on to this employer and worked in partnership with us to ensure quality applicants. As a result, Natural Blend hired eight line inspectors through ECVC’s job placement program. Such partnering has proven to be one of the most powerful tools we have for meeting both employer and job seeker needs. ECVC is proud to have such a valuable partnership with PCC, who shares our vision and goal of increasing employment opportunities for all our citizens,” said Binh DuRant, Program Manager at ECVC.

Speaking at yesterday’s event was NC Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, Pat Mitchell from the NC Commerce Rural Division, Bobby Ham, Ham Produce, Inc. and Congressman Walter Jones.

“This is just one part of the puzzle, but, it is a big part of the puzzle…this is a major investment,” said Congressman Jones.

The NCEast Alliance is a regional, not-for-profit, economic development corporation serving approximately 1 million residents within several small metropolitan and micropolitan areas from the fringe of the Research Triangle to the Atlantic Coast. The Alliance provides community capacity building and assists companies with site location and expansion evaluations. For more information on the NCEast Alliance, visit us at http://www.nceast.org or visit one of our workforce development sites (NCEast WorkReady Communities at www.ncworkready.org or STEM East at www.stemeast.org).