published Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Pilgrim's Pride to shut down Boaz plant, idle 1,200 workers

About Pilgrim's Pride

• Headquarters: Greeley, Colo.

• Size: The second-largest chicken producer in the world, capable of processing more than 36 million birds per week for a total of more than 9.5 billion pounds of live chicken annually

• Staff: 38,000 people, including about 900 at two plants in Chattanooga

• Sales:$8.1 billion in fiscal 2012.

• Growers: Pilgrim's Pride contracts with 3,900 chicken farmers nationwide, including several hundred in the Chattanooga region

BOAZ, Ala. -- Colorado-based Pilgrim's Pride Corp. is closing a poultry plant that employs about 1,200 people in north Alabama, local officials said Tuesday, another blow to a region already dealing with job losses.

While the company didn't immediately comment, Mayor Tim Walker and state Sen. Clay Scofield said executives informed them of the decision during a meeting at the plant in Boaz, where Pilgrim's Pride is the largest employer.

Walker was livid afterward. Area utilities spent millions upgrading services to the plant after Pilgrim's Pride moved in about six years ago, he said, and the company then requested rate cuts to reduce costs.

"You can understand why I'm a little angry," he said. "We won't have to look hard to find a better company."

Scofield, himself a chicken farmer who sells to Pilgrim's Pride, said he hoped the plant could be converted into a factory for another industry, perhaps automotive manufacturing.

He said company executives told leaders during the meeting they will transfer the jobs to other plants in Guntersville or Russellville. "That's a positive," Scofield said.

But Walker said workers already are driving from several counties to work in relatively low-wage jobs, and they may be harmed by an even longer commute once the Boaz plant shuts down in January.

"These people may not have the ability to do that," he said.

Pilgrim's Pride spokesman Cameron Bruett said the company, owned by the Brazil-based JBS SA, had no immediate comment.

The Pilgrim's Pride plant slaughters about 500,000 birds daily when in operation in Boaz, according to Scofield, and three other processing plants run by different companies operate in the area.

The move comes less than three months after Pilgrim's said it was spending $25 million to expand in south Alabama. The company is building a feed mill in Pinckard, and refurbishing a processing plant in Enterprise.

Pilgrim's Pride employs about 37,500 people in 12 states, Puerto Rico and Mexico. The company cut about 600 jobs at its processing plants in Chattanooga during 2012 and 2013, cutting the local plant staffs to about 900 jobs.

Pilgrim Pride's decision to leave Boaz came just days after the Tennessee Valley Authority said it was shutting down coal-fired power plants that employ more than 300 people in north Alabama, and International Paper will shutter a mill that employs about 1,100 people in Lawrence County, about 100 miles west of Boaz.

Walker said his town of about 10,000 residents will survive.

"We're going to be OK. We've got a good employment base," he said. "But any time you lose it hurts."

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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