The juggernaut of labor, industry, and economics in Hardy County is the poultry industry. This region is one of the largest suppliers to companies such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Tyson Foods. The dominant feature of downtown Moorefield is the chicken processing plant, Pilgrim's Pride.
Located at 129 Potomac Avenue, adjacent to the South Branch of the Potomac River, this huge complex is the largest employer in the county. In recent times, its low-paying, low-skilled jobs have attracted Latino and Asian immigrants. This plant has also seen its share of environmental and ethical issues, first stemming from run-off into the river, crippling the Chesapeake Bay, and in again in 2004, for violation of animal welfare laws.
However, the poultry industry is a great source of pride for the region, especially older generations, whose family farms once supplied the growing industry.
The South Branch region has always been agricultural. However, the effects of the two World Wars would have tremendous effects on labor and industry in the region, as well as helping to industrialize local production.
As part of the war effort, farmers were asked to produce more while using less. Exacerbated by the war-time labor shortage, farmers began to switch to low-input, high-profit poultry production which also helped to ease calorie and protein deficiencies created in part by war rations. By the cessation of hostilities, the region had almost entirely switched from various agricultural activities to poultry production. By 1950, half of all agricultural production in the county was poultry. Accompanying the labor shortage were technological innovations that allowed for convenient food processing and transport. In 1953, Pierce Pre-Cooked Foods moved from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Moorefield, building the first processing plant at the downtown location. A meager 24'X48' and employing only ten, the complex has underwent a radical change in the past 50 years. In 1986, the plant employed 500 and has only grown since then.
Wendell “Del” Hester was a salesman for the company but by 1954, he had purchased the company and Hester Industries, Inc., emerged. After changing the name to Wampler Long Acre, the company suffered financial losses in the late 1990s. During this period, the company was rocked by environmental problems associated with run-off into the South Branch Potomac River which feeds the Chesapeake Bay. On December 17, 1997, ConAgra acquired the struggling company, renaming it Pilgrim's Pride. In 2004, another scandal rocked the production town, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals revealed an undercover video of horrific animal abuse from some of the plant's suppliers. However, even with these setbacks, the plant continues to be one of the town's largest employers, pulling immigrants from as far away as Burma to the tiny mountain town.