BIDWELL — An end to an era, and up to 56 jobs, was realized this week as Bob Evans Farms, Inc. announced the planned closure of the Bob Evans Sausage Plant, located at 363 Green Valley Drive, Bidwell. The plant has been in operation since 1955. It is now scheduled to close in 2013.
Officials at Bob Evans Farms, Inc. announced planned changes to its food production operations in a release issued this week. The company will close its food production plants in Bidwell and Springfield, Ohio, in late summer 2013, displacing a total of 110 employees.
“These are difficult, but important, strategic decisions for Bob Evans — ones that will allow our company to continue to grow in Ohio and across the country,” said Chairman and CEO of Bob Evans Farms, Inc., Steve Davis. “We recognize there are vast opportunities that lie ahead for Bob Evans Farms, and we are committed to making significant investments in Ohio and our other markets to realize those opportunities.”
Davis indicated that the company’s strategy focuses on higher-growth opportunities such as packaged side dishes and convenience foods. He said the recent decisions are consistent with that strategy and are meant to position the company for future growth in Ohio.
Approximately 56 Bidwell-location plant workers will be impacted by next year’s closures. Although the termination of these positions is still a little more than a year away, the disappointment associated with the plant’s scheduled end can be felt in Gallia County on numerous levels — from a personal, local and regional economic standpoint, as well as from a place of history and nostalgia.
Bob Evans representatives cite business strategy as the reason for the closure of the Bidwell facility after 57 years of operation. The company anticipates a total annual pre-tax benefit of approximately $7 to $8 million in fiscal year 2015 from this restructuring. Still, no matter how justified the move, it seems the hits just keep coming for plant employees — and Gallia County, as a whole.
“Where are we going to go? We’ve lived here our whole lives,” said Kathy Stump, whose husband Greg has worked at the Bidwell production plant for the past eight years. “There aren’t very many options left in Gallia County.”
The newest announcement by Bob Evans Farms, Inc. is one in a series of dramatic changes affecting Gallia County sites and operations. In the fall of 2010, Bob Evans Farms, Inc. suddenly downsized the Bidwell sausage plant facility by 57 employees, citing a struggling U.S. economy and sagging U.S. pork industry.
Then in 2011, Bob Evans Farms, Inc. invested more than $4 million in upgrades to the original farm, homestead and site of the Bob Evans Farm Festival in Rio Grande, Ohio, including the construction of a modern restaurant and expanded parking facilities. The historic Adamsville log cabins were relocated out of the flood plain as part of the renovation, and a ribbon-cutting was recently held in celebration.
In early 2012, Bob Evans unveiled a new partnership with the University of Rio Grande, in the form of a Hospitality Management program now offered as an option to students.
Despite these positive developments, another blow came in March 2012, when Bob Evans announced to employees that approximately 90 positions at the Bob Evans transportation hub, located on Ohio 850 in Bidwell, would be transferred to a new Springfield, Ohio, transportation facility scheduled to open this fall. The new transportation center will be located near the distribution center that services its businesses at an estimated investment of $5 million. The new center will consolidate the Bidwell and Hillsdale, Michigan hubs.
Greg Stump and his colleagues survived the 2010 downsizing of 57 jobs but now face possible unemployment with this week’s announcement of the plant’s pending closure.
In a still shaky state and national economy, one reassurance Bob Evans offers is that the 90 transportation-based positions impacted are primarily driving jobs, so current employees will maintain those positions but with a Springfield — not Bidwell — home base. Bob Evans Farms, Inc. has also affirmed its commitment to helping the 56 displaced sausage plant employees through the transition and to placing as many employees as possible in other positions within the company by the time of the closures, but those affected by the newest round of layoffs aren’t so sure.
“They’ve sugar coated a lot of things. Even the transportation jobs that are supposedly moving, [the employees are] not all going to go that far,” said Kathy Stump. “[Bob Evans] may mean well, but there is only so much they can do.”
If the 2010 layoffs are any indication, placing the new round of displaced workers in new Bob Evans jobs may be a tall order.
When the first round of layoffs occurred, Bob Evans pledged support in helping affected workers find new jobs within the company, in similar language and manner as in this week’s announcement. However, the reality of 2012 is that only a handful of those holding the original 57 jobs cut in 2010 still work for Bob Evans Farms, Inc. today — and not for much longer.
“All the employees in Bidwell in the fall of 2010 were given the opportunity to apply for positions at other BEF Foods locations as well as at any of our restaurants,” said Bob Evans representative Margaret Standing. “Five employees came back and are working at the plant today and will continue to throughout the transition in 2013.”
Gallia County Economic Development Director Melissa Clark said that the county is disheartened by the news but will mobilize efforts to minimize the impact of the plant closure.
“My office is saddened to learn of Bob Evans’ decision to close the sausage plant operation in Bidwell next year. Bob Evans has been a major employer and an important part of our community for many years,” said Clark. “I appreciate the efforts that Bob Evans is making in assisting the employees during this transition, and my thoughts go out the employees and families who will be impacted by this decision.
“I have reached out to several local leaders within our community and JobsOhio regarding this announcement, and we are working on strategies to move forward, including attracting new business and industry to our community. We have a highly skilled workforce that would be a major asset to any company looking to locate or expand to Gallia County,” added Clark.
Other recent investments in the company’s home state of Ohio include more than $50 million over several years for the remodel of its 190 Ohio restaurants, approximately $40 million, after proceeds from the sale of the current campus, in a new corporate campus being built in New Albany, Ohio.
As part of the food production consolidation, Bob Evans will invest approximately $23 million to $26 million of capital to add lines to its food production facility in Sulphur Springs, Texas. Two new line extensions will increase production of ready-to-eat food products.
Bob Evans currently employs approximately 45,000 people; nearly 14,000 of whom are in Ohio. Much to the disappointment of Gallia County, however, it seems that the current business climate for Bob Evans has shifted a number of local jobs to northern Ohio.
Bob Evans currently employs approximately 300 employees in Gallia County at the plant, transportation center, farm and restaurants in Rio Grande and Gallipolis, but restructuring will mean that 146 of these positions will move to the Springfield, Ohio area by the end of 2013.
“It’s impossible to know what future employment numbers would look like in any one community, but what we do know is that when the company grows as a whole — both restaurants and foods — it allows us to continue to give back to Gallia County both through our community support such as the [Bob Evans Farm] Festival and philanthropy, programs like the new management training partnership with the University of Rio Grande, and through reinvestments such as the remodel of the Rio Grande restaurant, the renovation of the Farm, new event barn and the historic cabins,” said Standing.
“Many people might not know that we actually do not make money on the Festival or at the Farm — we lose money each year, but we consider that giving back to the county and the community. We know the Farm is a way of thanking our guests, of teaching them about our brand and about the values that shaped our company and southeast Ohio. It’s a way of investing in the community — the Festival alone generates, and Bob Evans gives, roughly $70,000 a year to Gallia County each October, and upcoming concerts and other events are also meant with a long-term vision in mind of building out a year-long calendar of events that will only help Gallia County grow its tourism presence,” added Standing. “Our Founder’s Day event this Saturday is a perfect example of that vision, and that’s something we’re proud of.”
The Bob Evans Farm and Homestead in Rio Grande, Ohio, will celebrate Founder’s Day this Saturday, June 2. The celebration begins at 11:30 a.m. with the Ohio Historical Society’s dedication of a commemorative marker honoring Bob Evans Farms, Inc., founder, Robert “Bob” Evans.
“We are in touch with our roots and heritage,” said Bob Evans representative Margaret Standing. “That’s what makes this decision such a difficult one. These employees have helped to build this company from the ground up. They are incredibly hard workers. It’s been a hard decision but one that had to be made.”
Stump reacted to this statement.
“Why didn’t they consider that then?” she said of Gallia County’s strong work ethic. “You know the old saying, ‘think outside the box’? I don’t think they did. There’s just no reason why they couldn’t expand operations here instead. I mean this is where it all started.”