There’s been a bit of a switch in one western Iowa town as residents from the big city are migrating to Storm Lake for work. Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson says the company has seen some success in recruiting in Chicago. "The people we recruit from Chicago typically ride a bus from Chicago to Sioux City, Iowa and then from Sioux City they’re brought to Storm Lake by van or car," Mickelson says.
Chicago, a city that first prospered as a transportation and livestock industry hub, is now one of the country’s financial and business centers. Until last year, 39-year-old David Moore had been stocking warehouses in Chicago, but saw no chance for a promotion. In less than a year, he’s advanced from the slaughterhouse floor to the supply room, maneuvering pork bellies. "You have a hook and I have to position the belly in order to trim off a certain portion of the fat," Moore says. "…I knew that it was going to be, you know, like, hard work. I just didn’t realize the magnitude of the production, like I didn’t think that there were that many hogs on this planet."
Jerome Brown, another former Chicagoan who’s working at the Tyson plant in Storm Lake, says the cost of living is a big plus. "That’s why I think a lot of people from Chicago decided to stay here, you know what I’m saying? You’re able to not live paycheck to paycheck because the housing situation here is very cheap," Brown says. "…Everything is affordable here."
While Brown has found housing, Joan Spooner of Storm Lake’s Community Action Agency says on an average day three former Chicago residents show up looking for help. "We don’t have like a homeless shelter where people can go to where larger cities have. You know we’re probably asked on a daily basis where the homeless shelter is here in Storm Lake, or where the soup kitchen is," Spooner says.
But Spooner says many former Chicago residents have found homes and families say they’re pleased with the quality of the local school and the lack of crime. Spooner says a deputy sheriff wrote an email that’s been widely read in Storm Lake, labeling the former Chicago residents as gangsters from the projects. "It did come from a neighboring county, not this county — this email. You know none of the people coming from Chicago have said to me, ‘You know, I really feel discriminated against here because I’m black,’" Spooner says. "I have had some comments from people who say they walk in the streets and they wish they would walk on the sidewalks instead of the streets because they may get run over. I think that must be a Chicago thing. I don’t know."
David Moore, the former Chicago resident, hopes to have a long career at Tyson and hopefully be transferred back to Chicago to work at one of Tyson’s plants there. "I actually miss the buildings, the skyscrapers, I guess just the skyline," Moore says. "I actually miss that."
Tyson won’t say how many former Chicago residents like Moore are now working at the Storm Lake plant.