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Latest update: Aberdeen prepares itself for Simplot exit

By Kaitlin Loukides
Published On: Dec 24 2013 05:03:45 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 27 2013 09:01:35 PM CST

Town prepares for Simplot closure

ABERDEEN, Idaho -

It's similar to that love story, where you see the impending break-up looking not-so-pretty, but this time it's the story of one company and a city who needs it most. Spoiler: economic development experts are saying this ending isn't looking as devastating as most suspected.

On Friday the Caldwell plant laid-off 262 employees to make way for the building of the new facility which will be located in the same town.

However, fear of the small town of Aberdeen turning into a ghost town that swept throughout the city when the company announced it would be closing the Aberdeen plant's doors by this Spring, might not be as prevalent of an issue as once believed to be.

Aberdeen Mayor Morgan Anderson is concerned about the 111 workers and 25 families this would impact, causing many, if not all of them to skip town in order to find employment elsewhere.

That's when Anderson called upon regional economic development specialists to help salvage the city, with its mere population of just under 2,000 people.

Anderson has been working with Kristen Jensen from the Great Rift Business Development Organization, Roger Chase from the Bingham Economic Development Corporation, and the Simplot company, among others.

Jensen said, in actuality, we probably will not see the mass exodus everyone has been fearing since the closure announcement nearly two years ago.

In fact, she feels positive about the outcome of this situation since Simplot is indicating it's doing its part to help out.

"I know they're not going to leave us behind," Jensen said. "I know they are going to be there to help us move forward into the future."

But, there's just one problem: Anderson and Jensen said the company is not allowing them to seek out prospective companies to move into the building until it officially closes its doors sometime between February first and the last week of April. Anderson suspects this is because Simplot wants to make sure the new Caldwell plant is up and running before it decides to nix the old Aberdeen plant for good.

Smart business move, yes. However, this is concerning to economic development specialists trying to prevent more than 100 employees from finding themselves without a job.

Anderson noted Simplot has never sold a single plant. They have either remained in business or have been demolished.

Jensen said Simplot has offered to pay for its employees' tuition if they decide to go back to school to gain training and expertise in another trade. The hope here, is to make sure these employees will be skilled in areas that could land them a job locally so they won't have to move out of Aberdeen.

"When the plant closes, they'll have other opportunities for employment and thus they can stay in the city of Aberdeen and that's our hope. We want to keep the employees in their homes, in their neighborhoods," Jensen said.

She also mentioned Simplot was only required to give its employees a 90-day notice before laying-off workers. However, this two year advanced notice allowed many of them to search for jobs in the meantime.

Some Simplot employees at the Pocatello plant mentioned many of the Aberdeen workers are seeking employment at the Don Plant in Pocatello, which is not being impacted by the closure.

In March, Idaho Rural Partnership will be sending between 15 and 20 economic development experts from across the state into Aberdeen to hold a community review session. This is where they will assess the city to determine how they can bring in certain businesses under its current circumstances, that can thrive within the community.

"We are hoping to get a lot of good insight from that and then we can go out and try to locate some of these types of businesses and hopefully attract them and bring them in," Jensen stated.

She also said she has been working with one unnamed company who is looking to locate itself between American Falls and Aberdeen.

Nevertheless, both Jensen and Anderson said too many manufacturing companies as well as consumers across the state (and even the nation) rely too heavily on produce grown in towns south of the Snake River such as Aberdeen and American Falls. Meaning, the cities aren't facing the threat of becoming a ghost town since there will always be potatoes flowing out into the rest of the state, onto the plates of many.

Even Simplot does not plan on ceasing its acquisition of produce local Aberdeen farmers supply them with, since the product is too good and they don't want to completely leave the city high and dry. 
But at the end of the day, that key word there is still 'completely.'

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

See other articles on the left-hand side of this page under "related content" to gather more information on how Aberdeen has been facing the Simplot closure we have been covering.

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