040215 Perdue Closing Plant In Florida Panhandle

February 22, 2004

Defuniak Springs, FL - This Florida Panhandle city will lose its largest private employer with the announcement Friday that Perdue Farms Inc. will close a 392-employee chicken processing plant.

The closure, effective April 21, also will end contractual agreements with 48 poultry producers in Florida and southern Alabama, company officials said.

Mayor John Lawson said the announcement came as a surprise although rumors of an impending closure had circulated for weeks.

"Local management kept telling us they were just going to reorganize," Lawson said. "Maybe they didn't know. I wouldn't say they weren't honest."

Perdue Farms, based in Salisbury, Md., will continue to operate a feed mill, hatchery and grow out and breeder facilities here to support its plants in Dothan, Ala., and Perry, Ga.

The company last month bought the former Cagle's Inc. processing complex in Perry for $45 million. Production from DeFuniak Springs will move to Perry and other company facilities that are more cost- effective, Perdue Farms chairman Jim Perdue said in a news release.

"This was a very difficult decision and reached only after examining all possible options," Perdue said. "Even after we acquired the Perry facility in January, we kept looking for ways to ensure the long-term viability of the DeFuniak Springs plant."

Perdue Farms will assist workers in obtaining unemployment benefits, jobs with other businesses or possible transfers to other Perdue facilities.

The company also plans to offer financial assistance beyond its contractual obligations to producers and encourage other poultry companies to buy from them.

Walton County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Pam Tedesco was optimistic about the Perdue workers' chances of finding new jobs because Walton had the state's sixth lowest unemployment rate - 2.6% - in December.

The county's coastal area, about a 30 minute drive from DeFuniak Springs, is growing so fast people are commuting from Alabama to work there, Tedesco said. Most of those jobs are in the hospitality industry, which has a relatively low pay scale, but two new industrial parks are being established in the area, both within 15 minutes of DeFuniak Springs, she said.

Besides lost jobs, the closure will cost the city about $300,000 in annual revenue, mostly from water and natural gas sales, Lawson said.

"It's going to be a hardship," Lawson said. "There is nothing we can do. We're just going to have to tighten our belts."

Lawson said new airplane repair, painting and storage facilities at the city's airport will create 25 new jobs and officials are looking for other new business to offset the Perdue Farms closure.

Perdue Farms is a privately held, family run company with 18,000 employees. It has customers in more than 40 countries and its sales rank fourth in the poultry industry.

The new Perry complex features a recently renovated 500,000-square-foot processing plant and includes a feed mill and hatchery in Forsyth, Ga. It has more than 1,200 employees and contracts with about 100 chicken farmers.

Perdue Farms last year closed two plants in Robersonville, N.C., and Emporia, Va., that had employed 900 workers in what was called a streamlining move that also transferred operations to other facilities.

Source: Miami Herald


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