FORT WAYNE - The nation's largest grocer has announced plans to build a large milk processing plant in Fort Wayne. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. says Walmart (NYSE: WMT) will build the facility which, at 250,000 square feet, is expected to be one of the largest in the nation. The project will create more than 200 jobs by the end of 2017.

Construction on the plant is expected to begin this summer and Walmart estimates production will begin in the summer of 2017. Once operational, the plant will produce Great Value and Member's Mark white and chocolate milk for more than 600 Walmart and Sam's Club locations in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and northern Kentucky. IEDC President Jim Schellinger says Fort Wayne's location is one of the main reasons Walmart decided to build the plant in Indiana.

Ted McKinney, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, says the state has been looking what it can and should do to improve its dairy industry. The 2015 "dairy strategy" showed that about four million pounds of unprocessed milk leaves the state every day and many farmers have to dump their milk because they can't send it anywhere. McKinney says having Walmart build this plant in Indiana "lifts everybody up."

"The reasons (Walmart) told us they wanted to come here started with good quality and reliable sources of milk and then after that, the great business climate (and) the infrastructure," said McKinney. "I also have to say they cited the Hoosier hospitality. They have met with farmers. They have known IEDC. We have met with them and they've always liked what they've seen."

McKinney says the new plant is an "important next step" and hopefully the first of many. He says while the state is proud of its corn, soy, pork and poultry sectors, it's important to show that Indiana is more diverse in agriculture. He adds Walmart's announcement affirms that the state's dairy strategy is working.

Indiana currently has 21 dairy processing plants and 14 farmstead operations. The state ranks 14th in the nation for milk production.

"By operating our own plant and working directly with dairy COOPs in the Midwest, we’ll further reduce operating costs and pass those savings on to our customers so that they can save money," said Tony Airoso, senior vice president of global food sourcing for Walmart. "This facility is an example of how we are always finding efficiencies within the supply chain to deliver everyday low prices and high quality groceries."