Rebuild begins for Thomas Foods International at Murray Bridge

Construction of the company's new meat works has begun, almost three years after a devastating fire.

This story was originally published behind Murray Bridge News’ paywall. Paywalled stories are unlocked four weeks after publication. Can’t wait that long? Subscribe here.

Adrian Pederick, Darren Thomas, Steven Marshall, Jim Whiting, Tony Pasin and other officials ceremonially start construction at Thomas Foods International. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

One thousand and seventy-eight days after fire destroyed Thomas Foods International’s Murray Bridge meat works, the rebuild has begun.

The first sod was ceremonially turned on Wednesday morning, signalling the start of construction at the company's new home off Mannum Road.

When completed, the $300 million beef and sheep meat processing facility will employ about 2000 people.

In time it will process more than 15,000 sheep and 1200 cattle per day, and add more than $100 million per year to South Australia’s economy.

The first stage to be built will be the beef line, which will create about 500 jobs when it becomes operational in about two years’ time.

Chief executive officer Darren Thomas encouraged anyone who wanted to work there to apply for one of the 80 food processing positions currently open at TFI’s Lobethal facility.

In time, though, he said people like chemists and robot programmers would be needed, too.

“We’re going to look to become an employer of choice,” he said.

“It’s more than just a job that we’re looking at here; we’re looking at the community.”

Migrants will likely fill at least some roles at the new facility, despite the company’s stated preference for locals.

But wherever they come from, the influx of workers and their families is expected to lead to the creation of an extra 4500 jobs in the Murray Bridge district and elsewhere.

‘What a great day this is for South Australia’

Premier Steven Marshall said the new facility would help South Australia’s primary producers sell their products around the world.

It would also help grow Murray Bridge’s population, a goal he said the state government was keen to achieve – hence its investments in the local hospital and high school.

“I think this is a great opportunity ... to attract more people out of the capital cities and other parts of the country to beautiful regional South Australia,” he said.

Mayor Brenton Lewis said Murray Bridge was ready to accommodate the thousands of extra residents who would move in as Thomas Foods’ workforce grew, in housing developments at Gifford Hill and elsewhere.

He said he had “never, ever” doubted Mr Thomas’ commitment to rebuilding locally.

“He said ‘we will be back, we will be bigger, we will be better’,” Mr Lewis said.

“Whatever they’ve said to me, they’ve always delivered.

“That hope ... that’s what's kept us going.”

The weeks following the fire had been difficult not only for the 500 migrant workers who had been forced to leave town and the hundreds of locals who had been without work for a time, he said, but also for the landlords and retailers who had lost significant income as a result.

But almost three years later, things were now looking up.

“What a great day this is for South Australia, and an even greater day for Murray Bridge,” he said.

Meat works’ new address will be Temora Way, Pallamana

Key to the start of construction was the completion on Wednesday morning of a $14 million access road connecting the Thomas Foods site to Mannum Road.

Formerly known as Temora Lane, the road will now be called Temora Way.

Other names were considered, but the Murray Bridge council voted to keep the old name in honour of the school which once stood there, also known as Mobilong West School and Pallamana School at different times.

The state and federal governments each contributed $7 million to build the road, while the Murray Bridge council managed the project and local company Spry Civil Construction did much of the work.

Thomas Foods has not yet indicated what it will do with its old site in Murray Bridge.