published Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Closing of Pilgrim’s Pride Dalton plant leads to 280 job losses

by Brian Lazenby
Audio clip

Brian Anderson

Nearly 300 workers at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry processing plant in Dalton, Ga., now will be looking for work in a city where unemployment last month reached 12.9 percent.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston The Pilgrim's Pride chicken processing plant in Dalton is seen on Monday afternoon. Company officials announced that the Dalton and Ellijay plants will close and merge operations with the Chattanooga facility.

“The loss of 300 jobs in any industry in any community is significant, and it certainly will continue to be significant on our community," said Brian Anderson, president and CEO of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce.

Pilgrim’s Pride announced Monday that the poultry processing company will close its Dalton operations within 60 days, eliminating about 280 jobs.

The planned closing of the plant is part of the company’s restructuring after it filed voluntary Chapter 11 petitions on Dec. 1, 2008. Don Jackson, president and chief executive at Pilgrim’s Pride, said the reorganization is necessary to cut costs and improve efficiency.

“While the decision to eliminate jobs is always painful, we are taking decisive steps now to protect the greatest number of jobs in order to restructure our business and ultimately emerge from Chapter 11 as a stronger, more efficient competitor,” he said.

The closure in Dalton adds to an already beleaguered job market in the area, where unemployment last month reached 12.9 percent — the highest among Georgia’s 13 metropolitan areas.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said not only will the loss of jobs hurt, but the city will feel more pain because the plant was a significant source of tax revenue and a major customer for the utility companies.

“It’s really almost a triple hit,” he said.

Cities with diversified industries were thought to be more stable than others, but when everything slows down, cities across America are hurting, he said.

“Chickens didn’t have anything to do with carpet,” he said.

The carpet industry, which has a significant presence in Dalton, has sustained large job losses over the past year. Between August 2007 and August 2008, the Dalton area lost 2,700 textile jobs. Also, there were textile plant closings at Shaw in Dade County and Mohawk in Fort Oglethorpe.

Pilgrim’s Pride is based in Pittsburg, Texas, and employs about 47,000 people at its 32 plants in the United States, Puerto Rico and Mexico.

The Pilgrim’s Pride plant in Chattanooga will be able to take on production duties from the company’s plant in Dalton without additional manpower, officials said.

Ray Atkinson, a spokesman for Pilgrim’s Pride, said the company is implementing measures to increase efficiency and allow the Chattanooga facility to increase production without hiring more workers.

“We can produce the same products in one plant that we are now producing at two,” he said. “We don’t expect to add positions in Chattanooga just because of the added efficiency of shutting down the Dalton facility.”

As typical turnover leads to positions becoming available at the Chattanooga facility, located at 1300 Market St., priority for those jobs will be given to former Dalton workers,

Farmers who serve the Dalton Pilgrim’s Pride facility gradually will be transitioned to supply the Chattanooga location over the next 90 days, company officials said.

The move will not cause any disruption in supply to retail, food service and industrial customers, officials said.

Staff writer Andy Johns contributed to this story.

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