ConAgra closing Garner plant

ConAgra Foods plant in Garner NC (Photo from Chopper11 HD)

March 3, 2010 8:50:06 PM PST
The explosion that rocked ConAgra's Slim Jim factory in Garner last summer will mean the end of production there after all.

Despite resuming production at the factory last fall, ConAgra says it won't pump money into repairs and instead will move the operation to Troy, Ohio.

"It was a very difficult decision, but it was a necessary decision," ConAgra Foods Executive Vice President Greg Smith said.

Four workers died and dozens more were hurt in the blast last June. Investigators say workers installing a water heater vented natural gas inside the building and it exploded.

The decision to shut the Garner plant's doors has left employees stunned.

"I just couldn't believe it happened like that," ConAgra employee Jerone Albany said. "We work hard every single day, every department every person to keep that plant on its feet."

ConAgra said it would take more than a year to wind down its Garner operation - giving workers time to get ready and look for other jobs. That won't be easy considering the economy and the loss of manufacturing jobs across North Carolina.

"ConAgra Foods plans to operate in Garner for the next 15 to 18 months at existing employment levels. The company intends to provide benefits and services, such as severance, outplacement, job retraining and performance incentives that will help employees transition from the company," read a press release.

ConAgra also said it will establish a scholarship fund for employees and their children to enroll in continuing education courses. It will also donate "$3 million to help fund a planned community center and market the existing manufacturing site to prospective companies."

“We truly value the commitment that our Garner employees and the entire Garner community have shown over the past several months,” ConAgra Foods CEO Gary Rodkin said. “This was an incredibly difficult decision, but a decision that allows us to leverage economies of scale in Troy, which is necessary for the good of our business over the long term.”

It will also give the Town of Garner the plant property.

"When they leave, what we will have is an excellent shell facility that can be easily adapted for other businesses," said Tony Beasley with the Garner Economic Development Department.

Businesses that will hopefully help minimize the economic impact of ConAgra's departure.

"We're going to be defined as a town and a community by the way that we respond to it," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said.

About 400 people currently work at the plant. Slim Jims have been made in Garner for more than 50 years.

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