“Industry and state officials are a bit mystified that any community would turn away 1,600 jobs,” says CBS News, but Tonganoxie proved to be one such community.
“We don’t want to be a chicken town,” said Shannon Reischman, a 36-year-old mother of four told CBS. The likely smell, added Reischman, was “the least of our concerns.” For Reischman and other Tonganoxie residents the real concern went much deeper.
Tonaganoxie has 5,000 people and change. If only half the new Tyson employees moved to Tongonoxie, that would add roughly 3,000 more people to the town. This is problem enough. “They say this could double the size of the school district and they want to be operational in two years?” said Tonganoxie school board president Bryan Kemp. “We can’t build anything in two years. Not with what we have. The city has to consider the district. Tyson has to consider the district. I even told Governor Brownback we’ve got to have help figuring out what to do.”
As the Sentinel reported at the time of the announcement, it was not just a question of numbers. If Garmin or Cerner were to open a new facility in Tonganoxie or a comparable small town, the protest would have been minimal. But Tyson presents another level of difficulty for a school district. The employees’ children would likely need special help. For instance, the Tyson plant in Noel, Missouri, employs some 500 Somalis as well as 60 to 70 Sudanese, many of them refugees. A disproportionate number of their children speak English as a second language, if they speak it at all
In the age of social media, when Tyson announced what seemed to be a done deal, residents mobilized. “Two weeks after the announcement,” reports CBS, “local officials withdrew their support and Tyson started looking elsewhere.”
“The entire community was just underestimated,” resistance leader Jen Peak told CBS. “I guess this is a lesson to them, going forward, to know the area that you’re trying to move into.”