NOBULL: Drought closes packing plant; 200 jobs lost

Drought closes packing plant; 200 jobs lost

By Justin Zamudio

Posted March 27, 2013 at 1:24 p.m., updated March 27, 2013 at 8:44 p.m.

SAN ANGELO, Texas — Drought in the Concho Valley has claimed another victim — this time a large and long-established company and jobs for hundreds of employees.

San Angelo Packing Co. Inc., a cattle-slaughtering and meat-processing plant at 1809 N. Bell St., closed Tuesday because severe drought conditions led to a lack of livestock supply, said John C. Sims, a member of the company’s board of directors.

“There was some hope that there will be some increase (head of cattle) at the first of the year, but that didn’t materialize. We couldn’t find the cows and the numbers to keep it going,” Sims said.

“It’s closing not because of economic losses; it was going to mount up in the future. We just couldn’t get enough (cattle) to get the plant (workers) pay,” he said. “The plant has plenty of assets, though. They did not want to use up the equity in the company.”

San Angelo Packing Co. had been in business since 1983, and was locally owned by Jimmy Stokes. The business stayed in the family after Stokes died in 2001, and Sims oversees the estate that owns all the stock in San Angelo Packing.

About 200 employees were laid off, Sims said. Employees were notified Tuesday, he said.

Texas Workforce Solutions will hold a rapid-response program for the displaced workers at 9 a.m. April 4 at the packing plant, said Cathy Ballard, planning director at the Concho Valley Workforce Development Board.

“We’ll tell them what benefits are available to them. We’ll work with the employees to get them into another job,” she said. “Right now the job postings are double from what they were a year ago. There’s all kinds of jobs available. When you have something like the oil industry open up the way it has, it opens up all sorts of jobs in a lot of industry sectors.”

Until recently the company processed 350-400 cattle daily, Sims said. Before the drought became severe in 2011, that number was closer to 700, and the company purchased its cattle from within a 100-mile radius of San Angelo.

The past few years the company broadened its purchase area, crossing state lines into Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, he said.

If the drought were to break and the Concho Valley’s parched landscape were to get its overdue quenching, the packing facility could reopen — though not until at least three years after the drought broke, Sims said.

“If the drought stops today, the time it takes a rancher to rebuild its herd is three years,” Sims said. “In other circumstances you might have a situation where the ranchers buy replacement cows, but they are not inclined to do that at this time.”

Only a trace of rain has fallen this month in San Angelo, and 1.82 inches so far this year — significantly lower than the average of 3.56 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Year-to-date rainfall in 2012 was 7.16 inches.

“Last year ranchers saw their herds cut in half and now are seeing them cut into thirds,” Sims said. “This kind of problem is happening all around Texas. Just the other day north of here (Plainview), they closed a plant that had 2,000 employees. The drought is too much.”

The company’s owners could not be reached for comment Wednesday.