Possible Pilgrim's Plant Closure Prompts Action

LOUISIANA, US - The unconfirmed reports that Pilgrim's Pride is to close its operation in the north-east of Louisiana have prompted action by many local officials to save the local business.
calendar icon 27 February 2009
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Local and state officials, including Governor Bobby Jindal, are scrambling to save Pilgrim's Pride's north-eastern Louisiana operations after numerous unconfirmed reports that the bankrupt company will shudder its Union Parish complex in ten weeks, according to The News-Star.

State Senator, Mike Walsworth, said employees told him the company plans to close the complex, eliminating at least 1,200 direct jobs and impacting 260 independent chicken growers. But Senator Walsworth later said a Pilgrim's Pride official told him that there has been no meeting with employees.

Officials of the Pittsburg, Texas-based company did not return calls from The News-Star yesterday.

Governor Jindal, who is vacationing with his family at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, spoke to Pilgrim's Pride President Don Jackson late yesterday afternoon.

"The governor called to make a last-ditch effort to convince the company to remain here before they made a final decision," Governor Jindal spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, said. "The state has been working with the company for months."

Mr Plotkin said Mr Jackson had not told the state what the company's final decision would be.

Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner, Mike Strain, said he contacted Pilgrim's executives on 25 February but they were non-committal to him, as well.

"They said that a decision was forthcoming, but did not say what the decision would be," said Mr Strain, who is travelling to Farmerville on 27 February to meet with poultry growers. "The operations are definitely at risk."

Mr Strain said poultry is a $1.5 billion industry in Louisiana. "This is my top immediate priority," he said.

Farmerville Mayor, Stein Baughman, said the plant's closure would be an economic disaster for the region.

"I just don't even want to talk about it," he said. "It makes you want to cry and be sick at the same time. It would be far-reaching — a domino effect. It would trickle down to so many businesses and households."

State Representative, Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, who represents Union Parish, said that the plant's closure "would obviously be devastating."

"In terms of an economic crisis, it would be the worst in Louisiana right now," he said.

Marilyn Wade, who with her husband Thomas has raised broilers for the plant since the late 1970s, said she and other growers would be ruined.

"It'll break us and others," she said. "But back there in Texas, I don't think they care."

Mr Walsworth said he understood that the company's top executives were meeting in Atlanta on 26 February.

Pilgrim's Pride declared bankruptcy in December but executives said then that operations would continue as usual while the company reorganized.

Mr Downs said Pilgrim's officials have told him that there is a glut of chicken on the market, and that supply must be cut to raise prices.

"My understanding is they want to dry up the market for chickens," Mr Downs told The News-Star. "They believe there's an oversupply, so this could be their strategy. This would spill over to poultry producers and lenders. It would reverberate through the entire region."

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