The following stories appear in Thursday’s Herald
830 jobs in Siler City will be lost
By Jonathan Owens
SILER CITY — Pilgrim’s Pride announced Wednesday that by June it will close a processing plant in Siler City that employs 830 workers.
The plant is one of seven the company plans to close throughout the nation, and of those seven, it is the only processing plant. The other six are distribution centers in Iowa, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio. In total, the company expects to lay off more than 1,100 workers, the bulk of whom will come from Siler City. Pilgrim’s Pride is the town’s second-largest employer behind rival Townsends.
Demand from the ethanol industry, as well as worldwide demand for food and farm-animal feed, has led to record prices for corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops. Pilgrim’s Pride’s costs for corn and soybean meal in fiscal year 2008 will be more than $1.3 billion greater than levels two years ago at current prices, Rivers said.
But that explanation was of little comfort to workers exiting the plant during a shift change at 5 p.m. Wednesday. William McCullough said the town may not recover from the closing, having suffered through several other plant closures in recent year and experiencing a severe water shortage.
“It’s going to destroy this town,” he said. “It’s bad, but it is business. You’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet.”
Another worker, Lisandro Reyes, who has worked for the company for four months, said closing the plant will have a great impact on the Latino community in the town.
“It’s not fair to us that they are closing,” she said. “It’s going to hurt the Hispanics here the most, because most of us work here.”
Donna Matthews said she had worked at the plant for just five months, but felt especially bad for her coworkers who have worked at the plant for much longer.
“I’m hoping I can get on at the Sanford plant,” she said. “There are people who have worked here all their lives, so it will be much harder for them to find jobs somewhere else.”
Should economic conditions improve, some work may shift back to the Siler City facility in other forms, the company said.
The company’s chief executive, Clint Rivers, in a statement blamed new costs on “the U.S. government’s ill-advised policy of providing generous federal subsidies to corn-based ethanol blenders,” for the closures.
“Our company and industry are struggling to cope with unprecedented increases in feed-ingredient costs this year,” he said.
Rivers said while the decision was difficult to close the Siler City plant, he believes it was “absolutely necessary to help bring supply and demand into better balance.”
“That portion of the demand for our products that exists solely at pricing levels below the cost of production is no longer a demand that this industry can continue to supply.”
In addition to SIler City, Pilgrim’s is closing distribution centers in Oskaloosa, Iowa; Plant City and Pompano Beach, Fla.; Jackson, Miss.; Nashville, Tenn., and Cincinnati.
No announcement made on Sanford’s Pilgrim plant
By Jonathan Owens
SILER CITY — While its neighbors to the west learned the news of more than 800 layoffs Wednesday, no announcement was made on the fate of Sanford’s Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant.
The Sanford plant employs more than 1,000 workers, according to Lee County Economic Development.
But the Associated Press reported Wednesday that Pilgrim’s Pride, the largest poultry processor in the United States with net sales in fiscal year 2007 totaling $7.6 billion, is reviewing other facilities for potential closure, consolidation or product shifts. The company also announced Monday it was getting out of the turkey business because of slim profits.
A call made to Sanford Plant Manager Don Poe went unreturned Wednesday.
The Siler City processing plant is one of seven Pilgrim plants nationwide (and the only processing plant) that will close due to rising costs in the poultry industry. The news of 830 lost jobs comes a week after it was announced Trusty Building Components, another Siler City industry, was closing, meaning about 100 lost jobs.
Diane Reid, president of the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation, said the Pilgrim’s closing alone would be devastating to the local economy.
“It’s always bad when we hear this kind of news,” she said. “That is 830 jobs, and the buying power that goes along with them.”
Reid said the county would work hard to fill the vacancy left by the closing, though now is not the best time.
“It’s just a hard time, but we’ll keep working on it,” she said.