Plans announced this week by Maple Leaf Foods to close its Thamesford turkey processing plant in 18 months came as a complete surprise, the mayor of Zorra Township said on Wednesday.
The company announced Tuesday it had signed a deal with Sofina Foods to move its fresh turkey processing out of the 80-year-old Thamesford facility and into Sofina’s plant in Mitchell in 2018, resulting in a loss of about 400 jobs.
“They contacted me first thing in the morning to tell me, and I then told the CAO, Don MacLeod. We were not expecting this at all. We’ve heard, over the years, rumours one way or another, but we’ve heard nothing lately,” said Mayor Margaret Lupton, adding they were hopeful recent improvements made to the facility meant the plant would continue to operate.
“My first thought was for the employees and their families, and the emotional turmoil that they’re going to go through.”
Lupton says she’s also worried about the effects the closure could have on the town’s shops and small companies who receive business from plant employees.
“Our businesses in Thamesford are small, so every customer counts,” Lupton said. “Going by the stores or ordering in food or picking up gas … all of this counts in a small community.”
There’s also a concern that water and wastewater costs will rise for Thamesford residents once the plant shuts its doors.
“They pay because they use a lot of the capacity of the water and wastewater that is from the Thamesford plants … so without that bulk that they pay for, there’ll still be a lot of the same costs to run the system, and that will have to be paid for by the residents in the town.”
Asked about the possibility that town residents may leave once the plant closes, Lupton replied that farm consolidation was a serious issue in rural areas, adding “we have real concerns about assessment right now.”
In a statement, Maple Leaf Foods says it deeply regrets the impact of the closure on employees and the community, but adds it will work to find a new use for the property and help workers find new jobs, including at some of its other facilities.
Maple Leaf Foods President and CEO Michael McCain says it was a difficult decision that came down to the “substantial physical limitations at our 80-year-old Thamesford plant.”
Lupton says she has received calls from several provincial ministries offering help and advice, and adds Maple Leaf plans to come to Thamesford next week for a meeting about the announcement.