Mocksville braces for job losses

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
MOCKSVILLE — Friday’s announcement that the Townsends chicken processing plant will close by October was a shock to many Mocksville residents.
Town Manager Christine Bralley said that officials received notice of the impending closure Friday morning.
The plant, which had been bought out by Omtron USA earlier this year, will lay off 476, according to a WARN Act notice.
Federal law requires employers to provide 60 days notice of major layoffs or closings.
Employees also received the official announcement Friday morning.
Some 200 of those workers were hired within the last 90 days.
Bralley said about half the plant’s employees live in Mocksville, which she said currently has a population of about 5,000.
There is still a chance the plant could find new owners.
“We are currently working with economic development staff to pursue another buyer, and we’ve also spoken with the local reps at Crestwood who are doing the same thing,” she said.
Bralley’s husband, Terry, is president of the Davie County Economic Development Corporation.
He said that the EDC had been talking to two parties about the plant, but those talks were ongoing.
“I know that when (Omtron) bought them in February, they had no debt service. They were in a very competitive place in the market,” Terry Bralley said.
He said he learned of the plan to close the plant Thursday.
“Absolute shock and disappointment, because the community has worked so hard,” he said. “It’s terrible what the impact to those families and the community will be.”
Plant manager Jim Harrison confirmed that attempts were being made to find a buyer, but declined to comment further.
He also declined to allow a Post reporter on the plant property to interview employees.
Outside the plant at the 3:30 shift change, some workers walking to their cars smiled and waved, but none would stop to comment.
“They won’t let us say a word,” one employee shouted through the fence.
But residents were outspoken, especially because it seemed like things had been getting better at the plant.
At the Beach ‘n’ Tans tanning salon on U.S. 601, staff said they were sad to hear the news.
“If one business closes, it’s going to hurt others,” said Vickie Neal.
Mike DePuew, who owns the salon along with wife Sandy, said two of his clients — a husband and wife — work at the plant.
“I don’t know where they’re going to go next,” DePuew said.
And, as his heart goes out to them, DePuew said he also knows that job losses will impact him.
“As a business owner, with my clients losing jobs, I’m going to be losing revenue.”
“I feel like more could be done to make jobs,” he said.
Eddie Frank said he’s lived in Mocksville for more than 60 years.
He said the closure of the Townsends plant will hurt the Hispanic community.
Residents said the majority of the plant’s workers are Hispanic.
As for residents of the community, the loss of so many jobs “can’t help,” Frank said.
He described himself as a self-employed carpenter and handyman.
When jobs are in danger, he said, “everybody’s afraid to let go of the money they do have.”
At Zeko’s Village, an Italian and American restaurant off U.S. 601, staff said one customer who works at the Townsends plant had come in asking if she might be able to find a job.
Dana Snody of Mocksville, a waitress at the restaurant, said she was surprised to hear the news because of recent upgrades to the machinery at the plant.
Snody also said she’s sad to see yet another closing in an area already hit hard by the economy.
“The typical jobs in Davie County over the years have been manufacturing jobs,” Snody said. “We’ve lost a lot of what used to employ the people of Davie County.”
Omtron is also closing a poultry operation in Siler City, according to published reports.
Townsends filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December. Omtron, an affiliate of Ukraine’s largest egg producer, bought Townsends’ North Carolina plants, its headquarters in Delaware and other assets for $24.9 million.
Omtron announced in May it planned to invest $7 million in the North Carolina operations.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.