Ordering chicken for a whole town

  The city of Artesia, N.M., could get more than it asked for when NUCHIK Inc. builds one of the biggest chicken processing plants in the West in the year 2000. The plant will slaughter 1.25 million chickens a week and create 900 new jobs in the town of 12,000.

NUCHIK supporters hope the chicken plant and its $7.50-an-hour starting wages will end rising unemployment and keep young people from moving away. "We need to diversify," says Artesia councilman Raul Rodriguez.

But the ensuing population growth could transform this sleepy oil town on the plains of southeast New Mexico. Some say NUCHIK will bring transients, Mexican immigrants and crime. As many as 900 new students could crowd the schools. And the city will have to spring for additional sewage treatment, medical facilities and police protection to accommodate the new workers.

"I worry about whether the jobs will be good ones people can enjoy working at," says Royce Pearson, the only city councilman to vote against offering the corporation a $210 million bond.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that company officials are new to the chicken business and that some have a history of failed business ventures.

Residents in favor of NUCHIK call it the city's best hope of finding new industry, but if the plant fails, Pearson says, NUCHIK's tax breaks could leave the city holding a big bill.

* Taffeta Elliott
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