By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
By James Neal
AdvancePierre Foods has announced a restructuring plan that will bring new jobs and investment to the company’s Enid production lines.
AdvancePierre Foods Chief Executive Officer Bill Toler told the News & Eagle the company plans to close a production plant in Orange City, Iowa, and move that production to Advance-Pierre facilities in Enid and Cincinnati.
The move is the latest reshaping of a company that has formed out of the merger of four separate food production companies over the past two years.
Advance Foods and Advance Brands, based in Enid, merged with Pierre Foods of Cincinnati in September 2010. The new company, AdvancePierre Foods, acquired Barber Foods, a Portland, Maine-based food production company, in May 2011.
According to Advance-Pierre Foods’ website, the company, headquarted in Cincinatti, now employs more than 4,000 workers in 11 production facilities located in Oklahoma, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Toler said the profitability and production capacity of the Enid and Cincinatti facilities led to the decision to close and redistribute the production from the Orange City plant.
“We made a decision a few months ago to close our facility in Orange City, Iowa,” Toler said. “Because of the great work that’s gone on here in Enid and in Cincinatti, and our associates’ profitability and capacity, we were able to take the volume out of Orange City and move that into Enid and Cincinatti.”
Toler said the plan calls for adding “a few hundred” jobs at AdvancePierre’s Enterprise facility, located near East Willow and Enterprise Boulevard.
In order to meet the increased production de-mand of assuming part of the Orange City plant’s capacity, Toler said AdvancePierre plans to remove two slower production lines at the Enterprise plant and replace them with one high-speed line.
The faster production line, paired with the increase in work force, is expected to increase the Enterprise plant’s production capacity by 20 to 30 million pounds per year.
Toler estimated the capital investment for that production line upgrade be-tween $5 million and $10 million.
AdvancePierre anno-unced the Orange City plant closing in late April, and the plant will cease operations at an unspecified date this fall.
Toler said the company is working to give the Orange City employees “time to organize their lives and figure out their next step.”
“We’re trying to do everything in the most associate-friendly way possible, at the same time realizing there’s going to be a few hundred jobs lost in Orange City,” Toler said.
He said the Orange City plant, at its height of operations, employed more than 300 workers.
AdvancePierre has of-fered those workers the opportunity to relocate to Enid or Cincinatti, but Toler said the company realizes most of its Orange City work force will opt not to relocate “due to family and other ties to the community there.”
“Generally, in a situation like this, you get less than 20 percent who will take you up on it,” Toler said. “If we could get 10 percent to move down here (to Enid), we’d be thrilled with that.”
Filling the remainder of the company’s expanding Enid work force will entail an extensive employee recruitment campaign, both in the Enid area and beyond.
“Work is going on now to entice people to come to the area from our closing facility, and also from other areas,” Toler said. “This will bring new residents to Enid, which we think is good for the community as well.”
Like all companies in Oklahoma today, Advance-Pierre will be competing with a booming oil and gas industry for quality employees.
“That’s certainly a challenge, but we’ve done it before,” Toler said.
He pointed to the company’s opening of the Enterprise plant in 2008, when a complete production work force was put in place through a “diligent and consistent” recruiting effort.
Toler said many workers will recognize a job at AdvancePierre as having “good benefits and a good salary,” and that it is “more consistent and predictable employment” than a job in the oil and gas industry.
“The thing about oil and gas is, it’s great when it’s great, but it has real definitive cycles,” Toler said. “A choice with us is much more consistent ... and it’s not really the same kind of choice as chasing that big dollar in oil and gas. It’s a much more stable career path that we offer, and that’s why we have a good level retention and such high quality of people who have worked with us for so many years.”
Once the new jobs are filled, Toler said the restructure will help drive the Enterprise plant to its full capacity.
“By filling up the plant the way we’ve done, it will stabilize the schedule and give our associates full, stable schedules which we think is a big benefit as well.”
Toler said the addition of more jobs and production capacity represents continued investment by Ad-vancePierre in its Enid facilities.
“Really, the core of our production center is Ohio and Oklahoma, and we’ve continued to show we’ll invest more in our core areas,” Toler said. “Come September 2012, we will have more employees working in Enid than we did two years ago, and I think that’s a real statement to our commitment to the area, but it’s also really a statement to the quality of the people who work in our facilities here. It’s because of the associates we have working here and the quality of the work they do that we’re able to make these investments.”
Toler expects to have the new positions filled and the Enterprise production line refurbished and fully operational by October.