Truman State University’s residence building Centennial Hall will temporarily house Kraft Heinz employees from Guam and Hawaii, according to a City of Kirksville press release.
The housing is for a two-month term while the workers find permanent housing in Kirksville. According to the press release, the workers will take a one-credit class to help them become familiar with and have a smooth transition into living in the area.
Typically groups of only 20-25 workers will be living in the hall at a time, said Public Relations Director Travis Miles via email.
There will not be a student adviser living in the hall, said Tyana Lange, vice president for enrollment management and marketing.
Centennial Hall was closed for the 2022-2023 academic year because of lower student demand and upcoming renovations.
The agreement will last for one year, at the end of which they may renew the agreement, said University General Counsel Amy Clendennen. Either party can also terminate the agreement at any time with 30 days’ notice, but the students currently in the hall will be able to remain until the end of their two-month term.
Lange said the hope was that employees would stay in the area long-term and that she was excited about the opportunity for Truman to be a partner in the community.
University President Sue Thomas said even if the employees do not end up working at the Kraft plant long term, she hopes they will stay in the area.
“I think that what Truman and Kraft and the city of Kirksville have is a willingness to work together and partner in such a way that doesn’t always exist in a community,” Lange said. “I actually kind of like being on the cutting edge of this because I think that if it’s going to work any place, it’s going to work here because of the relationships and the partnerships and the communication that we have between all of the players.”
Lange said the factory has over 100 unfilled jobs and that if Kraft-Heinz can’t fill them, they might move their Kirksville-based line of production, which would be detrimental to the area and therefore to Truman.
“I’ve explained to people that if Truman says we’re really going to support Kirksville, our hometown, we must do more than, for example, putting purple flags on Baltimore, painting windows on the square, inviting people to come to events on campus, and doing $5 Fridays in the dining halls,” Thomas said. “While all of these things are important, if we’re going to talk the talk about supporting Kirksville we must also walk the walk and do things that make a real impact in supporting the area,” Thomas said.
Lange said the unemployment rate in the Kirksville area is low, so they are not concerned about the new employees taking away local jobs.
For a cohort of 20 students using the regular rates for room and board at a monthly rate, the income would be $46,400 for their two-month stay, said Dave Rector, vice president for administration, finance and planning, with about one-third of that money going to food costs. Kraft will pay the cost for the individual’s room and food and will also make sure all the students have basic living supplies such as towels and bedsheets.
“We really aren’t doing this to make money, frankly. $46,000 dollars every couple months is great but a third of that is going to cover food costs,” said Rector. “Part of our mission really is supporting the community and the region, and so we saw it as a way, since we had Centennial hall shut down right now, a way we could help them out and help the community out.”
Rector said there would be some cost in getting rooms ready and they ensured they would be able to get some income out of the partnership. The planned renovations for Centennial had already been postponed because the price of the bid had doubled, and will not begin until they see how the partnership goes.
Lange said there also was no incentive for Truman to have a higher headcount number and that the students won’t significantly affect the more important freshman cohort or full time equivalent numbers.
Thomas said the City of Kirksville approached Truman with the idea in September, and the only reason Truman administration considered it was because Centennial Hall was open.
“We started having conversations pretty early on in our discussions about how we could most effectively help people transition to the community,” Thomas said. “We want them to come here and fall in love with it like we do and stay. We want them to bring their families and become members of our community. For all of us in the partnership, it was more than just how does Kraft Heinz get people here to work in their plant.”
Thomas discussed it with Truman’s executive leadership team, but information about the agreement was disclosed on a very limited basis since it was in negotiation and wasn’t just Truman’s information to share.
“There’s this balance of figuring out yes can we do it but you can’t work out too many details and share with the world and get input from the world especially when you’re dealing with a company like Kraft that is a private company and doesn’t want their information there until you have an agreement,” Lange said.
Thomas said she spoke with the head of faculty senate, staff council and Student Government, who also kept the information confidential. She also kept Truman’s Board of Governors up to date. She said so far she hasn’t gotten much direct feedback from the Truman community.
An employee at Kraft moved to Kirksville from Micronesia and said it is difficult to move beyond living paycheck to paycheck because of their high cost of living, Lange said. The employee said people from the area might want to move to Kirksville to live a middle class lifestyle and have more opportunities to save and get a good education.
The students who are part of the agreement will have access to the dining halls, recreation facilities and any other resources available to full-time students, Lange said. These are mostly areas already available to the public or other non-degree-seeking students.
Lange said Truman students are welcoming to a wide variety of diverse populations and she didn’t anticipate any issues with discrimination.
While Residence Life had at one point discussed the possibility of having a student adviser in the hall for the program’s students, they decided against it, Lange said. The students will only be there for two months, they’ll be working a lot of the time, they’ll have their own shift leader and Kraft-Heinz will provide a lot of the support an SA would.
Thomas said that given all of the safeguards, she doesn’t have concerns about the students bringing risk to the campus.
Lange said the program is not that different from other non-degree-seeking programs, such as agreements with high schools for dual enrollment. Truman currently has a program where Moberly Area Community College students who are non-degree-seeking students at Truman can live on campus, Lange said.
Clendennen said the agreement itself was different because it took place with a corporation instead of a school. Clendennen said the University will have to be flexible and learn as they go since it is a new type of arrangement.
The proposition was a little bit risky, Clendennen said, so she wanted to make sure the University was protected before she would approve an agreement. She said she got everything she wanted Truman to have in the agreement, including ensuring the students would undergo background checks and had to comply with the same policies full-time students comply with.
“I did a fair amount of research trying to find whether anything like this exists, and I wasn’t able to find anything similar to it, which is cool in a way that we’re doing something that’s really pioneering in a lot of ways,” Clendennen said.
“My focus or priority I guess is just to make sure that we treat them the same as we would any other student,” Clendennen said.
Clendennen said if a student needed to be removed from the residence hall it would be Kraft’s responsibility.
The students will be responsible for following Truman’s student code of conduct, Kraft-Heinz’s code of conduct, residence life rules, undergo a Truman background check, a Kraft-Heinz background check and drug testing, Thomas said, which is more than anyone else has to do to live on campus.
Lange said Kraft-Heinz has the expectation most employees participating in the program will be under the age of 30 and that this appears to be the case so far. This is because Guam and Hawaii have matriarchal societies where those women are interested in opportunities to better their lives and their families’ lives.
“Ultimately this population tends … to be very open to education,” Lange said. “They’re really passionate about it, and so I anticipate that family members would be very interested in coming to Truman to go to school, so I would be excited for that opportunity for us to open a pipeline for not just Kraft employees but for traditional high school age graduating seniors to come to Truman.”
Rector said Truman is not trying to compete with local landlords since the housing is transitional and the employees will move on to permanent housing after.
Lange said if the agreement works here, it could set a precedent for other communities to work together better. She said this is an excellent opportunity to be innovative and change lives and that hopefully other communities could adopt similar agreements.
Thomas said it’s difficult to say if there could be other agreements like this in the future, considering there’s only one company the size of Kraft-Heinz in the area. She said they will see if it works well or needs modifications and go from there.