Huntley Dean’s Foods plant may get new life

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

The shuttered Dean’s Foods plant in Huntley is being eyed for business operations by Country Delight, Inc., which return jobs to the area. (Photo courtesy of the Village of Huntley)

In July, the Dallas, Texas-based Dean’s Foods announced the closure of seven plant facilities nationwide including the 11-acre Huntley complex that took approximately 130 jobs from the community.

Oakbrook-based Country Delight, Inc. is now seeking to expand its operations at the site for eventual dairy product manufacturing and distribution, an effort that would also return those lost jobs to the area.

Officials from Country Delight, Inc. appeared at the Feb. 14 Huntley Village Board meeting to present a conceptual review plan in advance of requesting a special-use permit that would include “the outside storage of 50 semi-tractor trucks, 50 semi-trailers, and 2 straight trucks within the parking area to the south of the plant. A company representative has stated the truck traffic by Country Delight will be one-third  of the truck traffic compared to when Dean Foods was in operation.”

The plan further stated that “Country Delight anticipates having approximately 75-105 employees.” The property, located at 11713 Mill St., just east of Route 47, has seen only limited activity since the main plant closure. A maintenance building with a roof collapsed from heavy snows, is being demolished by Dean’s Foods with the acquisition of a permit.

The company is currently using a portion of the facilities for its distribution operations, but has tentatively identified pertinent improvements such as renovating office areas, replacing broken loading dock doors, unspecified upgrades to the parking lot, painting the building exterior, and new landscaping.

“At this time, they are preparing an application for a special-use permit and they are currently leasing space at this facility,” said Charles Nordman, Huntley’s development services director. “The process is that it will go to the village’s Planning Commission, since they are the recommending body and their decision will be passed up to the full board, for their determination.

“The great thing is employment … there was a problem in bringing back jobs, when Dean Food’s left,” he said. “According to the information, which Country Delight provided, it will return up to 105 positions … that’s about 30 less positions than when Dean’s was operating. And these are good, high-paying jobs being brought to the table.”

The proposal outlined an employment prospectus comprised of the following positions: 10-15 office ($30,000-$150,000 annual compensation), five-10 sales positions ($50,000-$80,000 annual compensation), 10-20 warehouse employees for distribution and production operations ($50,000-$70,000 annual compensation), and 50-60 drivers ($80,000 per year compensation).

Country Delight has been transporting milk for Dean’s Foods, and operating under their special-use permit that allowed the outside storage of vehicles.

The approval of a special-use permit under Country Delight’s name is contingent upon them occupying the property. They are currently proposing to purchase the property “bounded by Mill Street to the north, Dean Street to the west, Martin Drive and Grove Street to the south, and the Union Pacific Railroad to the east. The proposed purchase does not include the transportation facility … on the north side of Mill Street.”

The Huntley plant was built in 1945 and took advantage of its location next to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad tracks with spur lines, added later. By 1946, the plant was processing raw dairy milk from local Huntley farms, and maintaining a production end for distribution with gallon- and quart-size containers.

Nordman was not aware of potential revenues for the village, generated through property taxes, as estimates have not been made. Those amounts and apportionment rates are also under the purview of the “township assessor, not the village.” The Feb. 14 board meeting also entertained discussion of using tax-increment financing funds to help pay for exterior work, and the plant’s appearance conforming to the proximal downtown area.

“Dean’s Foods had been a part of our village, for a long time,” said Nordman. “We’re looking forward to see how this progresses.”

Requests for comment from corporate communications for Dean’s Foods were not returned.

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