By Diane Glidewell
Congressman Jim Marshall, who represents the 8th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, including much of Butts County, contacted the Butts County Chamber of Commerce and indicated he would like to visit a thriving industry in the county. It was arranged for him to tour Ready Pac in the Riverview Industrial Park at Highway 36 and I-75.
Ready Pac opened its facility in Jackson in 2001 and is now planning an addition to the building. It is a national processor and supplier of fresh cut vegetables and fruits with headquarters in Irwinton, California and five processing plants in the United States: California, Texas, and two in New Jersey as well as the one in Butts County. Its major customers include Publix, Wal-Mart, Costco, and Kroger.
The Jackson Ready Pac employs 290 workers, with 19 percent from Butts County, 21 percent from Spalding County, and the other 60 percent from 17 surrounding counties. There are plans to expand the building within the next year. If the expansion takes the plant into processing fruit, it will add 40-50 more jobs. Most of the jobs pay a little above minimum wage but do include health and other benefits.
Ready Pac is working with the technological challenges of producing better quality, better shelf-life, and more automated lines while keeping safety for the consumer a top priority.
Congressman Marshall asked about Georgia farmers as suppliers for Ready Pac. Currently Ready Pac only purchases cabbages from the Tifton area and some tomatoes in Georgia. Most produce comes from states on the West Coast or seasonally from Florida. Marshall thought Georgia poultry farmers and possibly vegetable and fruit producers should seek contracts with Ready Pac.
Marshall asked Director of Operations Aldo Quintanilla whether Ready Pac had been happy with the work force at its Jackson facility and received an affirmative answer.
"The work is not difficult, but the environment is," explained Production Manager Steve McBride. "We are a refrigerated environment, 37 degrees. It is hard to work in a cold, damp environment for 8-10 hours per day."
Ready Pac in Jackson produces 175,000 pounds of fresh cut salad per day, that is 33-35,000 cases. There are five wash lines, and the triple wash system processes 3,000 pounds per hour. Everything must be cut to the customer's specifications with a minimum shelf life of 10 days. Everything is also carefully weighed on the scale system. Workers have to keep the rhythm going in packaging, where 55 bags a minute go through on some lines.
Ready Pac in Jackson also recycles the water it uses. The organic segment of the business is expanding. Paramount is starting with the best produce.
"Quality is the most essential element for us," said Quintanilla. "We are here to stay, and we're expanding."