A California-based company is looking to cash-in on Americans' desire to eat healthier and has picked Pine Bluff as the place to do it. Western Foods announced Wednesday that they will take over a vacant building in the Jefferson Industrial Park and establish a gluten-free rice flour and “ancient grain milling business.”

The announcement was made during a meeting of the Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County, also known as the tax board, the group that administers the three-eighths cent sales tax approved by Jefferson County voters in 2011 for economic development.

With no dissent, the board approved a $280,750 incentive package for Western Foods. The company will receive a $5,000 credit on that package for each job they create within five years once the plant is in full operation, up to 50 new jobs at a salary of $18 per hour plus benefits. Western Foods has acquired the 56,000 square foot building that was the former home of U.S. Sugar before that company closed and relocated to Louisiana to be closer to its supplier.

Lou Ann Nisbett, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said she began working with Western Foods last August but that they were looking for a “food-grade” facility. When U.S. Sugar closed, she said she contacted them, and representatives of the company came to Pine Bluff again to look at that building before deciding that it was what they were looking for.

Shan Staka, the chief financial officer for Western Foods, who flew to Pine Bluff from California Tuesday, said, “We're excited to come to Arkansas.”

A press release from the company said its growth over the past five years has allowed the expansion into Arkansas.

“The Delta Region facility will expand WF's position in the long grain rice flour market and allow WF to better serve its Midwest and East Coast customers,” Tom Andringa, vice-president of sales and business development, said. “By opening our second mill in Pine Bluff, we will have an excellent logistical flow to important markets such as Chicago only 10 hours away by truck.”

Staka told the board that the company is currently looking at infrastructure improvements to the building before bringing in the equipment needed to produce the rice flour but predicted that they would be shipping product in January 2018. The facility, located at 5215 Industrial Drive South, sits on nine-acres of land.

According to the press release, it “has ample room for future growth.”

In addition to the incentive package from the tax board, Caleb McMahon, the director of Economic Development for the Alliance, said the Arkansas Economic Development Corp. had committed to a $280,000 investment.

“They matched us almost dollar for dollar,” McMahon said.

The company's other facility is in Woodland, California. Their parent company is Western Milling, which is described as “one of the largest privately held feed companies in the world.”