Full-Fill Industries, LLC in Henning is set to expand after entering into a long-term agreement with ConAgra Foods to produce all the cooking sprays made at ConAgra’s Rossville plant, which will close.

A major expansion is in the works at Full-Fill Industries, LLC in Henning that will keep 150 jobs in Vermilion County.

The cooking spray manufacturer announced Wednesday it has entered into a long-term agreement with ConAgra Foods to produce all the cooking sprays made at ConAgra’s Rossville plant, which will close.

The expansion is good news for both Full-Fill and the county. Both can look forward to manufacturing growth and job retention because of the efforts put forth by those involved with the project and Full-Fill’s willingness to put forth a significant financial investment.

There are 170 people employed, including management, at the Rossville ConAgra plant, with 150 expected to become employed in Henning. Management, administrative and production positions will be made available there in the next 12 to 18 months. There are 94 employed now at Full-Fill Industries.

Vicki Haugen, president and CEO of Vermilion Advantage, said it is nearly a wash as far as the number of jobs generated are concerned, but ConAgra looked at all its options when it came to making a decision on where it was going to send the contract, and it could have been out of the county or out of the state.

“It’s just a real blessing to the community that while the Rossville plant is going down, the business is staying in the same community,” Haugen said.

Rossville and Henning are less than 8 miles apart.

The expansion means an $11 million private investment from Full-Fill, plus a $2.5 million business investment package from the state.

Of the $2.5 million being administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, included is Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) tax credits, Employer Training Investment Program (ETIP) job training funds and a Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP) grant for infrastructure improvements.

Haugen said Vermilion Advantage is facilitating the CDAP grant, which it is about to apply for in the amount of $750,000. Haugen also said they will soon look at expanding the boundaries of the current enterprise zone to include the plant in Henning.

The Vermilion County Highway Department also is applying for Economic Development Program funds through the Illinois Department of Transportation to improve Old Route 1, a county road that carries the many trucks and products to and from Full-Fill.

That improvement will include a much-needed widening, industrial grading and drainage for the road — all things for Full-Fill, but that Henning residents will also enjoy.

Full-Fill also plans to install a sprinkler system, fire hydrants and fire pond with the expansion. David L. Clapp, president and CEO of Full-Fill, said they have already talked with the Bismarck-Henning Fire Department and will make those resources available to the fire departments in the area where water is scarce when trying to fight a fire.

Physically, the plant will nearly double in size to 300,000 square-feet at its site of the former Henning High School. Three additional product lines, another warehouse, three new gas houses and eight additional docks will be added. Construction will begin this summer.

“We looked at the long-term commitment that contract can bring us and the volume it can bring to the plant here,” Clapp said.

Considering that, he said they have a comfort level with the investment they put forth. The agreement with ConAgra is a minimum of 10 years, with extensions of up to 17 years to start.

New lines are projected to be operational by fall 2012. Once the expansion is complete, Full-Fill will produce 180 million units annually. In 2010, the company made 38 million units.

Clapp said they will produce more than 200 new brands of cooking spray for ConAgra, including the brand leader, PAM.

Full-Fill already was the leading provider of private brand aerosol products, including ones for Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck. It also does many for individual grocery stores and food service companies such as Aldi, Kroger and Sam’s Club. It also has produced brand-name products such as Crisco Pan Release and Mazola Pure.

The contract with ConAgra makes Full-Fill the major supplier of cooking sprays to the market. With the dissolution of the Rossville plant and that business transferred to Full-Fill, there now is only one other food aerosol manufacturer in the United States.

Full-Fill Industries is wholly owned by the Clapp family, who started it in 1999.

David Clapp’s father, Henry Clapp, started Clapp Industries Corp. in Potomac in 1982, which later became Creative Products Inc. of Rossville. Creative Products was sold to International Home Foods in 1997, which was later purchased by ConAgra.

“It’s come full circle,” David Clapp said, noting that it’s kind of strange that they’ve ended up being in business with their competitor.

Henry Clapp, now in his 70s, continues to work as senior director of research and development in Henning daily.

Employees from the Rossville ConAgra plant were notified of its closing Tuesday. It will continue to operate on a schedule similar to the construction ramp up of Full-Fill — for another 12 to 18 months.

ConAgra said severance, outplacement, job retraining and performance incentives to help displaced employees transition from the company will be done.

A decision about the ConAgra building in Rossville has not yet been made.

Employees from the Rossville plant are welcomed to apply for jobs at the Henning Full-Fill facility as soon as they become open. Administrative positions might be available later in fall 2011, but the majority of jobs won’t be filled until the first quarter of 2012.

David Clapp said he has been looking forward to the announcement and is excited to tell people about the expansion.

“I’m looking forward to construction to begin and producing product for them,” Clapp said.

Haugen said she is happy with the outcome for northern Vermilion County. She said this is an exciting time for the area, with a momentum that seems to be building.

“It just a win for the entire county,” Haugen said. “It takes what could have been a negative for the county and made it a positive.”

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