090308 Smithfield Hurts Tampa Bay Area Finances

March 7, 2009

(Tampa Bay Online) -- The pending closure of Smithfield Foods meat packing plant is having economic ripple effects across the Tampa Bay area, in ways large and small.

For years, Smithfield has trucked hundreds of thousands of gallons of industrial-strength wastewater to Tampa's Howard F. Curren wastewater treatment plant.

When the Smithfield plant closes this fall, the city will lose about $800,000.

"It just means less revenue for us," said Ralph Metcalf, director of the city's wastewater department. "We'll have to figure out how to bridge the gap in next year's budget."

The expected loss means city finance officials will have less operating funds to work with as they craft next year's fiscal budget, which must be approved by Oct. 1.

Mayor Pam Iorio has warned of a $35 million shortfall in the fiscal year 2010 budget.

Smithfield, which employs 760 workers at its Plant City facility, is set to cease operations Sept. 1, one of six plants being closed by the Virginia-based processor of packaged meats.

With sales of $12 billion, Smithfield Foods is the leading processor and marketer of fresh pork and packaged meats, as well as the largest producer of hogs. The company bought the 40-year-old plant off Turkey Creek Road from Tampa- based Lykes Bros. in 1996.

Besides losing the city's largest private employer, Plant City officials also expect to forfeit about $676,000 a year in revenue from municipal water they sell to it.