J.R. Simplot Company announced today that it will replace three of its existing potato processing plants with a new facility in Caldwell, resulting in a loss of at least 550 jobs. The plants slated for closure are in Caldwell, Nampa and Aberdeen. The company said it expects the new Caldwell facility to be up and running by the spring of 2014.
In Aberdeen, a town of under 2,000 people where Simplot has been processing potatoes since 1973, the news is still sinking in. “It’s a really hard thing to swallow, that we’re losing a big plant like that,” said Mayor Morgan Anderson. The Aberdeen plant employs 290 people, and 111 of them live in the town. “If something doesn’t come into the plant, we lose all those people,” Anderson said. “That’s going to have a great impact on us, plus it’s going to change the local tax base.”
The company’s board and the Simplot family spent a great deal of time considering options, according to spokesman David Cuoio. Ultimately, they concluded that Simplot couldn’t remain competitive without the new plant. “Falling behind would mean that our 10,000 workers worldwide could be put in a bad situation,” he said. “They believed the time had come when this had to be done.” The company has said that workers at the existing plants are welcome to apply for positions at the new facility, but it isn’t promising that all of the new Caldwell positions will be filled by workers who now face layoffs.
Economist Mike Ferguson said that food manufacturing has tended to be a relatively stable sector in Idaho, pointing out that the announcement of job contractions at Simplot coincides with the news that Greek yogurt maker Chobani will build a facility in Twin Falls. He acknowledged, though, that those observations are little consolation to the individual workers who got bad news today. “In a weak economy, things like this have much more serious consequences, because people don’t have many options,” he said.