Sara Lee facility to close

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

SHANNON – Sara Lee Corp. said Thursday it was closing its plant in the Tupelo Lee South Industrial Park by March 30, putting some 155 people out of work.
The company is transferring production to plants in Claryville, Ky., and St. Joseph, Mo.
The Shannon plant, which opened in 1997, makes Bryan Smokies cocktail sausages. It produced Bryan hot dogs at the plant before switching a few years ago to making Smokies.
“The decision to close the facility is the result of excess capacity and Sara Lee’s ongoing efforts to consolidate resources and simplify operations,” said Mike Cummins, the company’s corporate communications director.
He said the decision to close the plant was made “only after very careful consideration.
“We want to emphasize that our decision is not driven by the quality of our workforce at this site,” he said. “We understand this will be a very difficult time for our employees and their families. Impacted employees will receive appropriate support from the company, including severance and outplacement assistance. We also will coordinate efforts with state training and employment agencies to help facilitate and ease the transition.”
Community Development Foundation President and CEO David Rumbarger said the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security have been notified of the imminent closing, and said a Rapid Response Team is ready to help with outplacement services and worker training as soon as they hear from Sara Lee.
Rumbarger said he was caught off guard by the announcement.
“I had spoken to the plant manager in December, and they were talking then of adding additional lines there,” he said.
Ironically, the closing of the plant comes almost exactly five years after Sara Lee’s decision to shut down its Bryan Foods plant in West Point. On March 31, 2007, the Bryan plant that once employed 1,200-plus workers was closed and the last 400 workers laid off.
Said Cummins, “While this facility is a legacy Bryan manufacturing plant, we have no intention of exiting the brand. We remain committed to the Bryan brand, its Southern heritage and maintaining our loyal following.”
Rumbarger said any layoff is undesirable, but noted that the layoff affects less than 1 percent of Lee County’s manufacturing workforce. He said the ramp-up of Toyota suppliers, and expansions of other manufacturers will help offset the Sara Lee loss. He also said Sara Lee workers shouldn’t have any problems finding manufacturing jobs
Sara Lee, based in Downer’s Grove, Ill., generates nearly $8 billion in annual sales and employs about 20,000 people worldwide.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com