Colorado-based Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. is closing a poultry plant that employs about 1,200 people in north Alabama, local officials said Tuesday, another blow to a region already dealing with job losses.
Mayor Tim Walker and state Sen. Clay Scofield said executives informed them of the decision during a meeting at the plant in Boaz, where Pilgrim’s Pride is the largest employer.
Walker was livid afterward. Area utilities spent millions upgrading services to the plant after Pilgrim’s Pride moved in about six years ago, he said, and the company then requested rate cuts to reduce costs.
“You can understand why I’m a little angry,” he said. “We won’t have to look hard to find a better company.”
The move is part of an effort for the company to save $200 million in 2014 and calls for expanding operations in Russellville, Ala., and Douglas, Ga., company officials said in a statement Tuesday evening.
Consolidating operations will help the company maintain current production levels and will translate to about 100 jobs in the Douglas and Russellville plants, Pilgrim’s Pride officials said.
“Given our decision to consolidate operations, our intent is to offer retention incentives to encourage many of our Boaz team members to remain with the company in different capacities,” Bill Lovette, Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. CEO, said in a statement.
Scofield, himself a chicken farmer who sells to Pilgrim’s Pride, said he hoped the plant could be converted into a factory for another industry, perhaps automotive manufacturing.
He said company executives told leaders during the meeting they will transfer the jobs to other plants in Guntersville or Russellville. “That’s a positive,” Scofield said.
But, workers are already driving from several counties to work in relatively low-wage jobs, and they may be harmed by an even longer commute once the Boaz plant shuts down in January, Walker said.
“These people may not have the ability to do that,” he said.
The Pilgrim’s Pride plant slaughters about 500,000 birds daily when in operation in Boaz, according to Scofield, and three other processing plants run by different companies operate in the area. Company officials said the Boaz plant is its smallest in terms of processing capacity.
The move comes less than three months after Pilgrim’s said it was spending $25 million to expand in south Alabama. The company is building a feed mill in Pinckard, and refurbishing a processing plant in Enterprise.
Pilgrim’s Pride employs about 37,500 people in 12 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
The company’s decision to leave Boaz came just days after the Tennessee Valley Authority said it was shutting down coal-fired power plants that employ more than 300 people in north Alabama, and International Paper will shutter a mill that employs about 1,100 people in Lawrence County, about 100 miles west of Boaz.
Walker said his town of about 10,000 residents will survive.
“We’re going to be OK. We’ve got a good employment base,” he said. “But any time you lose it hurts.”