Farmerville plant among Pilgrim’s Pride cuts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 28, 2009

Poultry processor Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. announced Friday that it will at least temporarily close its plant at Farmerville in northeastern Louisiana, putting 1,200 workers out of jobs in a region that has been hit hard by major business closings in recent years.

The company also is idling plants in El Dorado, Ark., and Douglas, Ga., bringing the number of workers losing their jobs to 3,000, or about 7 percent of the Pittsburg, Texas-based company’s work force.

‘‘The idling of these three plants is a painful reflection of the unprecedented challenges facing our company from an excess supply of chicken and weakening consumer demand resulting from a crippled economy,’’ said chief executive officer Don Jackson.

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Ricky Albritton, board member of the Union Parish Chamber of Commerce, said one of the most immediate effects would be the cutoff of income to about 265 local chicken farms that supply the plant. Those farms depend on loans to operate.

‘‘In 10 weeks, they will have no income, and that will hit the local banks,’’ Albritton said. ‘‘It’s going to be a Katrina for us.’’

Robert Eisenstadt, an associate professor of economics at the University of Louisiana at Monroe who studies the region’s economy, said there will be ripples throughout the regional economy. The plant generates about $85 million in household income annually, he said.

‘‘I don’t see a household in Union Parish not being affected by this,’’ said Farmerville Mayor Stein Baughman.

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, Union Parish, with 22,000 residents, had an unemployment rate of 7 percent in December, up from 4.6 percent in December 2007.

‘‘Equivalent, alternative employment for Pilgrim’s Pride employees, as well as those tied to the plant, will be difficult to come by in northeastern Louisiana, at least for the foreseeable future,’’ Eisenstadt said.

In a statement, Gov. Bobby Jindal, who made a last-ditch appeal Thursday to keep the plant open, said he would visit Farmerville on Monday.