Tyson Foods to shut four US chicken plants in blow to small towns

Tyson Foods to shut four US chicken plants in blow to small towns

Tom Polansek

Updated Mon, August 7, 2023 at 12:57 PM MDT·3 min read

FILE PHOTO: Tyson Fresh Meats processing plant is seen three days after a fire heavily damaged the facility in the Finney County town of Holcomb

By Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) -Tyson Foods is shutting four more chicken plants – in Arkansas, Indiana and Missouri – to cut costs, a blow to small communities in the U.S. heartland that depend on the meatpacker for nearly 3,000 jobs.

The company, which reaped big profits as meat prices soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, is now adjusting to a decline and to slowing demand for some products. Tyson closed two other chicken plants, in Arkansas and Virginia, with almost 1,700 employees this year, and has also laid off corporate employees.

The decision by Tyson, the largest U.S. meat producer by sales, to shutter facilities surprised and saddened local officials, who said the four plants have been fixtures for more than 50 years.

Tyson said it will move the work done at the closing plants – located in North Little Rock, Arkansas; Corydon, Indiana; Dexter, Missouri; and Noel, Missouri – to newer facilities closer to its customers. The plants are slated to close in late 2023 or early 2024, according to Tyson.

The four facilities account for about 10% of Tyson’s chicken-slaughter capacity, Chief Financial Officer John R. Tyson told analysts on a call.

The company employs roughly 1,500 workers at the facility in Noel, tucked in Missouri’s southwest corner, Mayor Terry Lance said. The city’s total population: about 2,100 people.

“It’s going to impact the city pretty hard,” Lance said.

About 683 people work at the facility in Dexter, a city with a population of about 8,000, City Administrator David Wyman said. Wyman said he hopes to connect workers with other local employers so they do not leave town.

“People need a job and those jobs are now not here,” Wyman added.

Tyson’s decision has already put on hold Dexter’s planning for a new wastewater treatment plant that could cost $18 million, Wyman said. The city had been working on the project with plant management, Wyman added.

The closure also affects about 29 local farmers who own chicken houses to supply the facility, along with grain growers who produce chicken feed, Wyman said.

Tyson declined to say how many plant employees will be affected. It said it will help relocate workers and encouraged them to apply for other positions at Tyson.

“These moves are difficult certainly,” CFO Tyson said in an interview. “For the long term of Tyson, this is a move that should allow us to be better, more efficient and serve our customers better.”

CEO Donnie King said on the call with analysts the plants are typically smaller and “in need of major capital to make them viable.”

Local officials said the latest closures affect about 300 plant workers in North Little Rock and more than 500 jobs in Corydon, Indiana.

“When large corporations make business decisions like this, there simply isn’t much we can do,” said Bruce Cunningham, town manager of Corydon. “The decision has been made and it is up to us to move forward.”

(Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Will Dunham and Louise Heavens)