Closing system

Smithfield Foods will close most of its operations in Beaver County, affecting more than 250 workers

Smithfield Foods announced Friday the closure of the majority of its operations in Beaver County. (Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV)

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MILFORD, Beaver County — Smithfield Foods announced on Friday it was closing the majority of its operations in Beaver County, sparking outcry from the rural community.

County officials have noted that the company is the area’s largest employer, and they argue the closure will affect more than 250 jobs – a number a Smithfield spokesperson denies.

At an emergency meeting after the announcement, county and city leaders expressed concern about how the shutdown could create a ripple effect on the local economy. The southwestern Utah county has a population of about 6,500, according to US census data.

“My family was able to return to Beaver County 15 years ago because I was able to work at Smithfield Foods, and so I deeply sympathize with those co-workers, their families, the contractors, the contract growers, their families, all businesses involved, our school district partners,” Beaver Mayor Matt Robinson said.

The Beaver County commission has declared a state of economic emergency.

“It’s affecting a lot of family, friends and everyone,” County Commissioner Mark Whitney said. “We can truly feel in our hearts and souls how devastating this can be.”

Whitney said county leaders have been discussing the situation with state and federal leaders.

The Emergency Proclamation leaders pleaded that “all municipal, state and national governments and organizations assist the county by providing resources to explore ways to maintain the hog operation in Beaver and Iron County and to ensure transformation in a responsible and economically profitable manner.”

County leaders noted that federal and state funding exists for such situations.

When asked by a resident if the workers could start an independent packing plant, Whitney said the county didn’t have the manpower to do so. He said executives plan to work “in collaboration” with Smithfield to find solutions moving forward.

Smithfield Foods announced in a press release Friday that it will cease all harvesting and processing operations in Vernon, Calif., early next year and plans to “align its hog production system with reducing his herd of sows in his western region”.

That includes shrinking its sow herd in west-central Utah and potentially exiting its farms in Arizona and California, according to Smithfield Foods. The company said it was taking the action due to “the escalating cost of doing business in California.”

Company officials said they were providing ‘transition assistance’ to affected employees, including offering relocation options within the company and incentives to continue working until the start of the next year.

“We are grateful to our team members in the Western Region for their dedication and invaluable contributions to our mission. We are committed to providing financial and other transition assistance to employees affected by this difficult decision,” said Smithfield Chief Operating Officer Brady Stewart said in the statement.

Jim Munroe, vice president of corporate affairs at Smithfield Foods, said in an interview that he didn’t know how county leaders estimated two-thirds of employees would be affected. He said the number of jobs that will be affected has yet to be determined by the company.

Munroe said Smithfield is not disclosing the percentage of the sow herd he plans to reduce in Utah, nor would he say how many hogs the company has in the state. The company plans to move most of its operations to the Midwest, and the Utah hogs will go to another facility.

He noted that Smithfield has no plans to end its renewable energy program, which uses manure from pig farms to produce renewable natural gas.

Local leaders have also denounced the potential impact on food security across the state.

“I think it’s bigger than us, it’s bigger than Beaver County, it’s bigger than Utah,” County Commissioner Tammy Pearson said.

“We have to keep these people in business…we can’t lose this business,” Pearson said. “We’re going to leave no stone unturned to do what we need to do to keep this going.”

contributor: Amy Joi O’Donoghue

Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. A lifelong Utahn, Ashley also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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