Ross got the news Wednesday night that Pierre Foods would shut down its Rome plant, the former Zartic facility on Lavender Drive, sometime in August. The plant employs an estimated 350 workers, company officials said.
Plant manager Gus Swanson said the Cincinnati-based company has not determined a hard closing date.
Rome City Manager John Bennett lamented the loss of another major employer, as well as the city’s major water and sewer customer. “They’re also a major taxpayer for Rome and Floyd County, not only the real estate, but the personal property and inventory,” Bennett said.
The real estate that the Pierre property occupies in West Rome is valued at almost $5 million, which resulted in a $41,771 tax payment to the city last year. Its equipment and personal property was valued at $7.7 million and generated almost $76,000 in taxes to the city this past year. Bennett said the loss of the personal property, which Swanson said is likely to be auctioned off, will cost the city school system close to $50,000 a year.
Ross said that after Mohawk shut down in the same industrial complex two years ago, Pierre had become the city’s No. 1 water and sewer customer, using about 210,000 gallons a day. Ross said the shut down would cost the city about $500,000 annually in revenue. “We are going in the wrong direction with our water production, “ Ross said.
The Rome plant is a primary processor of pre-cooked chicken products along with beef, pork and veal.
The company completed a cost-benefit study earlier this year to match production capabilities with sales volume and determined it had considerably more capacity to produce than it had in sales.
At that point, the company needed to make difficult decisions regarding the future of it’s five production centers and decided that Rome would be shut down. “It would take quite a large investment in the Rome plant to keep it viable,” said Gus Swanson, plant manager.
The Rome plant was originally part of the old Trend Mills textile complex. Zartic founder James Mauer purchased the former Trend corporate headquarters and two buildings on the manufacturing campus in the mid 1980’s and shifted the company’s headquarters from Cedartown to Rome.
The primary food processing building was greatly renovated and expanded at the time of purchase and subsequently expanded on at least two other occasions before the company was sold to Pierre Foods in December of 2006.
During its peak years, according to former Zartic chief operating officer Jack Harris of Rome, the company enjoyed annual sales in the $200 million range and employed more than 1,300 people at facilities in Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.
Pierre Foods closed the adjacent Zartic processing plant in 2008, putting about 150 workers out of work.
Pierre is doing three or four things for the employees who will be losing their jobs. Swanson said as openings at four other Pierre plants develop in the interim, employees in Rome would be offered an opportunity to move. Pierre also has plants in Claremont, N.C., Easley, S.C., Amherst, Ohio and Cincinnati.
For every year of service, employees will be given a week’s severance pay.
“We’re doing everything we can to work with other employers and the Department of Labor to assist our workforce,” Swanson said.
Al Hodge, head of the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce, said that the Chamber had been working with Pierre as recently as last week, completing paperwork to assist the company with exports. “The surprising part was that they had not communicated with us so we were very disappointed.”
The loss of 350 jobs at Pierre in August will come right on the heels of the departure of CCH-Small Firm Services which is moving its West Rome facility to Kennesaw in July. It’s not clear how many of the approximately 380 employees at CCH will follow the company to Cobb County.