Pilgrim's Pride is expanding its plant in Cold Spring, Minn., a move expected to increase jobs and give central Minnesota farmers a larger market for their chickens.

The $75 million expansion is expected to be complete in early 2021, adding 50,000 square feet to the existing processing plant.

Pilgrim's, based in Colorado, said the added capacity could create up to 130 more jobs. It now employs 1,200 people at the plant.

Local and state officials moved quickly this summer to pull together an incentives package when Pilgrim's started scouting sites for an expansion.

"Our understanding is that they were looking at ours and other existing facilities within Pilgrim's holdings," said Patti Gartland, president of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC)."This translates to a really important, beneficial project for our central Minnesota ag economy."

In August, GSDC — working with a third-party site selector hired by Pilgrim's — brought together representatives from Stearns County, the state of Minnesota, the city of Cold Spring and Xcel Energy to assess what infrastructure and financial needs would have to be addressed.

This culminated last week in the final approval of a tax abatement by the city, county and Cold Spring School District. All three agreed to a 10-year, 75% tax abatement for the expansion.

The expansion will increase daily production of chicken products, including Pilgrim's Just Bare chicken brand. Pilgrim's became one of the region's largest employers in 2016 when it acquired GNP Co., the St. Cloud-based maker of Gold'n Plump, for $350 million. Just Bare was GNP's fast-growing line of natural chicken products.

Part of the expansion space will be used for a new cafeteria, larger break room, lunchroom and bathrooms.

A spokesman for Pilgrim's did not respond to a request for comment.

Like other meat-processing plants across the Midwest, the Cold Spring facility had an outbreak of COVID-19 during the early days of the pandemic. With nearly 200 reported cases, workers protested for safer work conditions, prompting Pilgrim's to give $575,000 to the city to help it deal with the crisis. Its parent company invested $2.6 million in Worthington, Minn., where it operates one of its largest pork slaughterhouses.

Pilgrim's Pride on Wednesday announced a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding its antitrust investigation into an alleged price-fixing scheme. The Justice Department charged Pilgrim's with fixing prices and then passing on higher costs to retailers, restaurants and consumers. Pilgrim's agreed to pay $110.5 million for "restraint of competition" in three contracts of chicken sales to a single U.S. customer.

Pilgrim's Pride is the nation's second-largest chicken producer behind Tyson Foods Inc. The company is majority owned by Brazil's JBS S.A., the world's largest meat processor by sales.

Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767