Corporate Officials Reverse Closure Decision
Just over a year ago, Jim Wyse, Archbold mayor, said he had a knot in his stomach when talking to the press and about closing the ConAgra plant in Archbold. It was a loss of well over 300 jobs.
He felt better on Thursday, Sept. 20, when told about the ConAgra decision to keep the factory open and retain most of the jobs.
The plant was scheduled to close in January 2007. The closing was delayed until March, and then postponed again until November.
Company officials summoned the plant's workforce to a meeting at Sauder Village, Wednesday morning, Sept. 19, where they received the news.
By mid-morning, word of the decision was leaking into the community.
Stephanie Childs, a ConAgra company spokesman, officially confirmed the news Thursday morning.
She said the Archbold plant, the former La Choy Food Products, will be "kept open for the foreseeable future.
"We are continually evaluating our business needs, and now, in particular, because of our innovation agenda, and because of our focus on growth, we've determined that there may be new opportunities for our canning platform, which led us to the decision to keep Archbold open.
"We are continuously evaluating our business needs, and how each of our plants may or may not help us to reach those goals."
Childs said there was no one particular reason why company executives decided to keep the plant open.
"It's our overall focus, and new opportunities for our capabilities within our canning manufacturing. We looked at that and decided that there may be opportunities for the entire platform, which includes Archbold," she said.
Childs said a decision has not been made regarding exactly what production lines will be in operation in Archbold.
"We are still looking at what our production will look like in the coming months. We still make a variety of canned food products there."
Ft. Worth, Texas
Originally, Archbold's production was to be moved to a new plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
An existing plant at Fort Worth was scheduled to close.
"We have let our employees in Fort Worth know they will be remaining, that we will keep our existing Fort Worth location open for the time being, for the foreseeable future as well.
"We have put a hold on construction on our new building while we evaluated the opportunities there."
Archbold and Fort Worth are the only two plants that are impacted by the recent decisions, she said. The Perrysburg ConAgra plant is still on the shutdown list.
The decision to retain Archbold and Fort Worth "was made recently by our senior operations management."
Wyse said when the plant closing announcement was made Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006, there were 370 persons working in the Archbold ConAgra plant.
As of Thursday, Sept. 20, Wyse said the number was 326.
Childs said employment at the Archbold facility fluctuates with seasonal demands and needs.
During the past year, Wyse said Archbold ConAgra employees and local management never lost hope of reversing the closing decision.
All employees rallied. "They came out with a logo, and a slogan. They had T-shirts created with a slogan on it," Wyse said.
They found new ways to cut costs and increase efficiencies. They did so well, that in July they were named the plant of the quarter for the entire company.
But the ConAgra staff did not do it alone; there was assistance from the village of Archbold, along with support from Fulton County's economic development arm, and even the office of Bob Taft, former Ohio governor.
"Early in July, when our $6 million wastewater treatment plant expansion got to the point where it could handle more capacity, we advised them that the amount of BOD loading (biological oxygen demand, a measure of the strength of wastewater) the plant could handle would increase.
Other actions taken by the village included:
•Creating another tier in the water rate system, creating a cost savings for the plant.
•Creating a plan to discount the company's wastewater bill, to compensate for water that was going into cans rather than going into the village sanitary sewer system.
•Searched for grant money to provide more rail access, but company officials chose another option.
"I like to think our dialogue caused other options to be explored, and they found another way to cut their transportation costs," Wyse said.
•Entered into Community Reinvestment Act tax abatement agreement with the company. While the saving from the tax abatement is small, the partnership between the Village of Archbold and ConAgra allows the plant to obtain a discounted electricity rate from Toledo Edison.
Wyse said Thursday morning, he went to the plant for the 6:15 am shift change to congratulate the workers and thank them for the efforts towards keeping the plant in Archbold.
"I have never seen so many smiles at 6:15 in the morning," he said.
"Several of them said what a burden has been lifted off their shoulders."
Wyse said some employees were saying, "Boy, now I can get that car I've been putting off."
With ConAgra employees comfortable with their future, Wyse hoped they would begin making major purchases they had been putting off, creating a ripple effect through the entire community, if not the region.