The Hillshire Brands Company announced on Friday that it will discontinue all production at its Florence facility by the end of 2014. The decision will impact about 1,100 employees.
The facility at 700 S. Wood Avenue will shut down by Dec. 30. The Florence plant houses breakfast sandwich and breakfast sausage cooking operations.
"Closing our Florence facility was a very difficult decision to make," said Tom Hayes, chief supply chain officer, The Hillshire Brands Company. "For many years, these employees dedicated themselves to running a quality operation, which they have done exceptionally well. Unfortunately, after looking at our business, we determined that this facility will not allow us to meet our efficiency or long-term profitability expectations. "
The company said it will provide severance and outplacement assistance to employees. It will also coordinate efforts with state and local training and employment agencies to help facilitate and ease the transition for affected employees.
Several employees said they never saw the closing coming. In fact, they said they thought business was going well. Most of them said they got the initial news on social media Friday morning and thought it was a rumor.
"At first we thought it was a rumor, and then you get there and find out it's not," said Tammara Walker who had been with Hillshire Brands for nearly 10 years. "I'm holding it together right now. I'm just fighting back tears."
Employees said plant officials held meetings throughout the day, letting them know about the company's decision to close the Florence facility. The plant had been in the Shoals since the 1940's evolving from several names, including Rudy Farms and Sara Lee.
Friday's announcement left many people with unanswered questions and concerns about their future.
"Question marks everywhere, just wondering, you know, what my next step will be," continued Walker. "I know definitely search for another job. You know, just questions. I have small kids, just things of that nature. How am I going to go, what's going to be my next step, how am I going to make things happen around my household, how am I going to keep things functioning, and things like that. It's rough."
Like others, Walker said she plans to stay at the plant as long as she can. City leaders all said Friday's announcement was a surprise. According to them, the company had concerns about the age of the plant, and decided to source their production from other locations.
City Council President, Dick Jordan, said the announcement hit the community hard. However, he's hopeful city leaders will continue to bring in other industry to help the workers find jobs. In fact, the mayor left for an overseas trip Friday to recruit business in Alabama, with a focus specifically on the Shoals.
"I looked at the discipline and the well trained workforce there," said Jordan. "They're all well trained, they're well disciplined, and I feel like with that type of workforce, type of people, we can all work together and get them retrained, and hopefully we can find another industry to come in there, or another industry to move into the area."
Governor Bentley said they have rapid response teams ready to help assist the employees, but he said they'll do whatever they can to try to get the plant to stay.
"We do know that plants age out," Bentley said. "We will be working. In fact, I've already talked with the mayor this morning. We've discussed how we are going to approach this. I'm going to try, and he is going to try to get in touch with the CEO to see if there's anything that we can do."
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