The true weight of that message was felt on Friday by 57 employees of the facility who received notification from corporate officials that the company is closing its fresh sausage production line at the plant, located on Green Valley Drive in Bidwell. BEF officials cited the stagnant U.S. economy in general and a sagging U.S. pork industry in particular as the reasons for shutting down the local fresh sausage production line.
“This was a very difficult decision made for the long-term health of the organization,” Mike Townsley, president of food products for BEF, said in a prepared statement released Friday. “Bob Evans Farms has roots in Gallia County and the employees at the Bidwell plant have been loyal and hard-working. We appreciate everything they have done through the years to build the brand.”
According to Steve Myer, agriculture analyst for Paragon Economics, the U.S. pork industry is experiencing its worst production period in the past two centuries.
“The smallest herd coupled with higher production costs and soaring feed costs has created a challenging environment for producers,” Myer said.
Margaret Standing, director of corporate communications for Bob Evans Farms, said, according to company figures, the production costs at the Bidwell plant are higher than at other plants the company operates.
“It has to do with how the plant is set up and the equipment that it has here,” said Standing. “We also produce different products here that other plants are able to make and this plant is not set up to make. So, that figured into the decision as well.”
Company officials said each of the 57 employees who lost their jobs Friday will receive severance benefits and the opportunity to transfer within the company. The downsizing measure leaves 53 employees remaining at the Bidwell plant, which will continue to produce pre-cooked sausage links and patties, known popularly as “brown and serve” products. Company officials said the plant is not being shut down.
That information was of little consolation to the employees who lost their jobs, including Bidwell residents Rob Phillips and Danny Hively and Rodney Morgan of Rio Grande. Each man had been employed at the sausage plant for at least 20 years.
The employees who were terminated were informed Thursday that they needed to attend a meeting on Friday morning. It was during that meeting that they were advised that the fresh sausage production line was being eliminated and received information about their severance packages and insurance. Other than that basic information, Phillips said corporate officials offered few details.
“They wouldn’t answer any questions at all,” said Phillips, who worked for BEF for 28 years. “They just beat around the bush.”
Morgan, who had worked at the Bidwell plant for 22 years, said his emotions in regard to the job cuts went beyond simply being disappointed with the company’s decision.
“It’s sad. It’s a kick in the gut,” he said. “The whole company started here in Gallia County and this plant started the whole thing, and then they don’t care, they just closed it up.”
Hively, who had been with BEF for the past 20 years, is close to retirement age. He said he and others in his age group have numerous concerns related to their immediate future.
“I’m 62 right now,” he said. “Retirement’s going to be difficult, to be able to keep insurance, things such as that. There’s several guys in this age range. They could retire, but insurance is the problem.”
Bob Evans Farms has maintained a sausage plant in Gallia County since 1948. Standing said while the company history and relation to Gallia County is not lost on corporate officials, the current economic situation is simply too overwhelming to avoid.
“Gallia County is where Bob Evans started. We know that. We honor that. That’s why this was so hard,” Standing said Friday. “It was not an easy decision. But the economics of the pork industry right now are very difficult. The sow herd is the lowest it’s been since the Civil War and the processing capacity is the largest it’s ever been. Basically, not enough sows, too many plants; it affects the supply and demand. And for that reason, we needed to have less production capacity.”
In light of that, Standing said, production at the Bidwell plant and other Bob Evans facilities had already been at reduced levels “for some time” prior to Friday’s announcement.
The Bidwell plant’s fresh sausage production volume, according to a press release issued Friday, will be shifted to BEF plants in Xenia, Ohio; Hillsdale, Mich.; and Richardson, Texas.