The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

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April 4, 2014

Hillshire brands to close Florence plant

Hillshire Brands Co. said Friday it plans to close the company's meat plant which employs about 1,100 people in northwest Alabama, a move that surprised area leaders still coping with the fallout from a paper mill closing.

The company said in a statement that the plant in Florence is set to close on Dec. 30.

The plant includes cooking operations for breakfast sandwiches and breakfast sausages.

Tom Hayes, chief supply chain officer, said closing the Florence plant was a "very difficult" decision. However, he said the company determined it won't meet efficiency or long-term profit expectations.

Mayor Mickey Haddock said he was "floored" to learn of the shutdown from plant manager Damien Williams.

"I thought everything was running smoothly here," said Haddock.

The decision was announced about seven months after International Paper said it would close a mill in nearby Courtland, cutting 1,096 jobs.

"This is a major blow to our economy," said Dick Jordan, president of the Florence City Council. "You add that to what happened at International Paper, it hurts."

Hillshire Brands said it will provide severance and other assistance to employees.

The Hillshire plant began operation in the 1930s as Lauderdale Farms, before becoming Florence Packing Co., Bama Meats, Jolly Green Giant, Rudy Farms, Jimmy Dean Foods and Sara Lee. It was sold to Hillshire in September 2012.

Haddock quoted the plant manager as saying the shutdown decision was based on the age of the facility and related "safety concerns."

The mayor said he had been in contact with Gov. Robert Bentley who pledged his support to the city.

"Gov. Bentley said he is going to try and work with us to see if we can talk with (Hillshire) company officials to see if there is anything we can do to try and change this decision," Haddock said.

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