Officials at LifeLine Foods reported the company is moving closer to a dry run for a new mill designed to nearly double the plant’s capacity at producing corn flour, or masa.

Work to construct the corn flour mill began at the end of April and is estimated to wrap up by the end of the month, according to Raul Ayala, LifeLine’s vice president and general manager of masa, who is leading the project.

Most of the necessary equipment is already in place, with LifeLine itself doing the electrical work. Once the mill is finished, testing of its production processes would then occur in January. A variable number of about 30 personnel will be needed for the installation of equipment and operation of the mill, with eight or nine of that total considered new personnel.

“We’ll be able to produce 4 metric tons (of masa) per day” following the expansion, Ayala said. “That (mill) is going to allow us to reach other markets that we haven’t been able to reach with the (masa mill) that we have right now. We’re going to reach more customers.”

Masa is used by food processors to manufacture such products as tortillas and tortilla chips for clients in both the U.S. and Mexico. An additive system will be created as well that will provide a preservative for the flour. Ayala said the popularity and use for masa continues to grow.

“It’s a very good opportunity for LifeLine,” he added.

Company spokeswoman Melissa Chesnut told News-Press NOW the new mill makes sense in terms of the industry’s economic conditions.

“The market can’t keep up with demand,” she said. “We’re responding to consumer trends.”

Crews have been busy on weekdays finishing building the mill, Ayala continued, with some personnel even putting in Saturday hours. The Mexican firm Meprosa is the primary contractor, and the Massachusetts firm Beacon Crane & Rigging furnished a crane that can reach up to 300 feet and lift 300 tons.

A lab technician and sanitation workers are among the 13 new jobs created by the expansion. The city of St. Joseph is partnering on the project, with the council approving $6.5 million in taxable industrial development bonds at its Dec. 2 meeting.

Rain has hampered part of the work schedule. Yet with the construction now enclosed, Ayala said weather will no longer be an issue.

“We have been lucky,” he said.

Chesnut said an open house could be scheduled for the new mill sometime early in the second quarter of the new year.

Ray Scherer can be reached

at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.