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Denim mill finds new life in dairy industry

By Jennifer Dorsett

An old denim mill in Littlefield has been given new life, thanks to Continental Dairy Facilities Southwest (CDFS) and Texas dairy farmers.

The former American Cotton Growers (ACG) denim mill closed in 2015 after 40 years of operation. The closure of the city’s largest private employer at the time was a blow to the town of about 6,000 people.

“The plant shut down, and it left a lot of people in this community without a stable job that they had had for so many years,” Haley Welch, Human Resources manager at CDFS, said. “A lot of the people that now work for us used to work at the denim mill, but for probably three or four years between 2015 and 2019, a lot of them were commuting to Lubbock, which put an extra strain on their time with their families.”

CDFS purchased the building shortly after ACG closed its doors. Company executives were eager to bring a dairy plant to the area, but it would take several years of work to get the facility rehabilitated and up to standard for dairy processing.

Welch, who has been with CDFS since 2017, said the original building structure was added onto and retrofitted where necessary. Then several metal structures were built on to house processing components of the plant.

Continental Dairy selected Littlefield to build a new plant, according to Welch, because of the high concentration of dairy farmers in the Texas Panhandle and the surrounding area.

“We have a plant like this in Michigan, which is a really good service to our Midwest producers, but we really needed a spot for our Southwest producers to bring their milk,” she said. “We have producers that are anywhere from as close as 20 minutes away to about three or four hours away, up in New Mexico. So it’s a good location for our members. I believe everybody is pretty happy that we’re so close, and we can give them that competitive advantage when transporting milk.”

And former employees of the denim mill are pleased, too. Welch estimated about 60 percent of the former textile mill employees gained new employment at the dairy plant when it opened in March.

“Continental Dairy is such a good company,” Welch said. “Our co-op is a group of 99 dairy farmers, and they are pretty much the owners of the business. They believe—from the top all the way down to the bottom—that you treat your people right. We work together as a team, and everybody gets along. There’s a lot of people around here that say it just feels more like a family versus, you know, a place to work. We support each other. We help each other, and it just makes for a great day coming in and working here.”

The plant operates year-round, churning out butter and dry milk powder from about 80 milk trucks a day. The butter and milk powder are mainly purchased by food manufacturers and bakeries to be used in items like baked goods and packaged foods.

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