Back in 2011, when Lloyd Bird was board chair for the facility’s umbrella limited liability company, the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center, he discussed the goals. “We very much wanted it to be like a cooperative, producer-driven. We knew if the producers were not behind it, the likelihood of success diminished,” he said at the time. “The LLC structure allowed producer participation, but did not limit private investments; there are some non-producer shareholders involved as well,” said Bird.
Actually, there are more than 90 people who invested in shares of the limited liability corporation.
The facility was initially managed by a five-member board that included Bird, Jon Donaldson, Allen Ervin, Scott Moyers, and Steve Rogers.
Rogers served as board chair in 2014. “Anything is possible with enough imagination,” he said then. “It’s wonderful what people can accomplish when they come together. The ag center is the perfect example of several communities’ dreams coming to fruition.”
In 2011, when Ervin was interviewed about the project, he said, “This is a pretty big deal. It was questionable. I think we all had questions when things first started, but then it just took off … I’ve been on the board for only a year, but some of these folks have been doing this for seven years. They’ve given a lot of time and energy to it … just goes to show there are a lot of people who really believe in Highland County.”
Five years later, as Ervin steps down as chair, he reflected on the challenges, accomplishments and opportunities of Alleghany Meats.
“Probably the most difficult challenge the company has faced is the continuing cash flow short fall. The low-interest rate loan from USDA requires a payment of over $64,000 annually, which is extremely difficult for a startup company to pay. The board of managers decided to sell more stock in order to pay down the debt and ensure the company would be financially solid for the years to come,” he explained. “As the board members approach people in our community to invest in the company, we are so pleased with the positive attitude toward the company and the willingness of everyone to support the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center.”
Ervin praised the facility’s staff. “Not everyone is the type of person to work in a slaughter facility,” he said. “It has taken time to find the right people, train them, and develop a team that is knowledgeable and efficient. We have been working on this since we opened. Now we are pleased with the stability and the quality of our present employees.
“With a state-of-the-art facility, an excellent work force, a financially secure company, and a marketing/sales force working through The Highland Center, one has to be excited about the future of the Alleghany Highlands Agricultural Center,” he added.
Incoming board chair Caroline Smith also praised the previous board’s work. “I think the biggest challenge was the amount of effort required to start a big, completely new business in this area. Thankfully, the first board members jumped in with both feet and did whatever was necessary. The community owes them a great debt,” she said. “In order to ensure Alleghany Meat’s financial future, we need to find new customers to process animals and, even more important, keep the customers we have pleased with our services.”
Alleghany Meats was established as a result of a long-term community project in cooperation with The Highland Center. Financing was made possible in part by a $480,000 loan from USDA-Rural Development in partnership with Highland Telephone Cooperative.
This article appeared in The Recorder on April 7, 2016