About an hour northwest of Omaha in Fremont, NE, an impressive, vertically integrated poultry production campus is taking form. Costco, headquartered outside Seattle in Issaquah, WA, sells approximately 60 million $4.99 rotisserie chickens every year at its locations across the country. Building its own feed mill, hatchery, and poultry processing facilities in Fremont ensures a steady supply and gives Costco complete control over production. Interstates joined with several other contractors to build Costco’s greenfield feed mill starting in June of 2018.
Interstates was originally in charge of mill construction, but it took on more tasks as the project progressed. An ever-changing scope demanded flexibility and perseverance. “Our crew worked hard. They put in six-day weeks with long hours, supplying the project with seven-day coverage through multiple weeks of start-up and commissioning” says Joel Cook, Superintendent at Interstates.
When drawings were unavailable for certain areas of the project, Interstates employees took the initiative to develop specific plans for integrating systems. Whenever a question about coordination between trades arose, questions were asked to avoid conflict. “Going directly to other trades or vendors for answers helped,” says Britton Hulme, Project Manager at Interstates. For instance, Interstates coordinated MCC loading and unloading with the vendor to avoid conflicts and keep a close hold on the schedule. “We kept the communication running to solve our issues,” Hulme adds.
Interstates tested out a new track porter – basically a robot for setting gear – on this project. “The track porter worked really well for us. It saved on labor with lifting and rigging things. Instead of using someone’s back to do the work, this tool can pick things up, put them in place, and set them down,” says Cook. The track porter helped save time when delays threatened the already tight schedule. “It took a five-person job and made it a one-person job,” says Hulme.
Mother Nature threw a wrench in the project schedule with both a harsh winter and a spring and summer full of historic flooding. “The cold weather was terrible. At that point our work was up top and outside where there was nothing to block the wind,” says Hulme. Heavy rains, tornadoes, and flooding began in March and continued through July, devastating farmland, small towns, and roadways in Iowa and Nebraska, among other Midwest states. “Fremont was just trapped. We couldn’t get out of Omaha for an entire week, and people had to be flown in to town,” says Hulme. Land around the site was underwater, but, luckily, none of the Costco facilities were flooded.
To regain time lost to inclement weather and other delays, Interstates focused on process critical items to meet deadlines and double planned its manpower. Whiteboard scheduling helped to keep track of who needed to be where. Big wire pulls were planned extensively so they could be done in one shot. The long hours and long weeks were challenging, but the hard work and dedication of the crew made up for lost time. “Because of schedule lags, we ended up having to do 65-70% of our work between May 1st and July 1st,” says Cook. He adds, “We had a really good team. They worked their tails off, and I can’t say enough good things about them.” Hulme adds, “They really embodied our motto of ‘Understanding Needs and Delivering Results.’”
Interstates is wrapping up its portion of the feed mill project with startup and commissioning underway. Lincoln Premium Poultry, the company Costco formed to manage this endeavor, expects to process 2 million chickens per week for Costco stores when the site is running at full production.