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CONAGRA STAYS IN ARCHBOLD

BREAKING NEWS

BREAKING
NEWS
by David Pugh
Buckeye Staff
Writer


Just over a year ago, Jim Wyse, Archbold mayor, said he had a knot in his
stomach as he talked to the press and electronic media about the announced
closing of Archbold’s ConAgra plant and the loss of well over 300 jobs.


On Thursday, Sept. 20, there was no knot in his stomach as he discussed Con
Agra management’s decision to keep the factory open and retain more than 300
jobs.


The plant was originally supposed to close in January 2007. The closure was
put back until March, and then postponed again to 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 out of the plant and into
the community.


Stephanie Childs, a ConAgra company spokesperson, officially confirmed the
news Thursday morning.


Childs confirmed that the Archbold plant, the former LaChoy 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 particular reason or issue that caused company
executives 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 be 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 Fort Worth, Texas, where
ConAgra was constructing a new plant.


An existing plant at Fort Worth was scheduled for closure.


“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.”


“We are definitely pleased we are able to share this information with our
employees there in Archbold,” Childs said.


“We have really great employees in Archbold, and across the company. This
decision really was made on the fact that we have new opportunities, and we see
Archbold fitting into our ability to meet those goals.”


Jobs Saved


Wyse said when the plant closure 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 management
never lost hope of reversing the closure decision.


All employees rallied.


“They came out with a logo, and a slogan. They had T-shirts created with the
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 ConAgra’s 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 former Ohio Governor Bob Taft.


“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.


In August, village officials created another tier in the water rate system.
The new tier discounts a customer’s water bill if more than 20 million gallons
per month is used. ConAgra is the only water customer in the village that uses
that much.


“That was an effort on our part to have them continue to use water at such a
high level.”


Village officials also came up with a plan to discount the company’s
wastewater bill, to compensate for water that was going into cans and leaving
the building, rather than going into the village sanitary sewer system.


The savings was capped at 10% of the wastewater portion of the bill.


“Currently, we continue to work with them to find more effective ways to do
that, but those required more time, and we were trying to assist the plant in
reducing costs wherever we could, which would assist them in being more
competitive in bidding for other product lines,” Wyse said.


Village officials also went to the State of Ohio looking for grant money to
provide more access to the plant for railroad cars. In the end, Wyse said
company officials decided to load their products into shipping containers and
then send those containers by truck to a multi-modal terminal at Findlay. There,
the containers were placed on train cars.


“I like to think our dialogue caused other options to be explored, and they
found another way to cut their transportation costs,” Wyse said.


Most recently, the village entered into a small 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 work continues with the company as local management and village
officials try to find more ways to help ConAgra cut
costs.
 
Thrill Of Victory

Wyse fell back to
an old television show, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, to describe his feelings
about the announced.


“A year ago, it was the agony of defeat. In the last 24 hours,” he said
Thursday afternoon, “it’s been the thrill of victory.”


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.



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