Smithfield Foods shuts down the bulk of operations in Beaver County, affecting more than 250 workers

Smithfield Foods announced Friday that it is closing the majority of its operations in Beaver County. (Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV)

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MILFORD, Beaver County — Smithfield Foods announced Friday that it is closing the majority of its operations in Beaver County, sparking an outcry from the rural community.

County officials note that the company is the largest employer in the area, and they maintain the shutdown will affect more than 250 jobs — a number that a Smithfield spokesperson refutes.

During an emergency meeting after the announcement, provincial and city leaders expressed concerns about how the shutdown could have a ripple effect on the local economy. The county in southwestern Utah has a population of about 6,500, according to US Census data.

“My family was able to move back to Beaver County 15 years ago because I was able to work at Smithfield Foods, and so my deepest sympathy goes to these employees, their families, contractors, contract farmers, their families, and all businesses affected, our school district partners,” said Beaver Mayor Matt Robinson.

The Beaver County Commission declared an economic emergency.

“It affects a lot of family, friends, everyone,” said County Commissioner Mark Whitney. “We can really feel in our hearts and souls how many people this can destroy.”

Whitney said county leaders have spoken with state and federal leaders about the situation.

In the emergency declaration, leaders pledged “to all governments, municipal, state, and national organizations to assist the county by providing resources to explore ways to sustain the pig operation in Beaver and Iron County and to provide treatment in a responsible and economically profitable manner.”

County leaders note that there is both federal and state funding for such cases.

When a resident asked him if workers could set up an independent bottling plant, Whitney said the county did not have the workforce to do so. He said the leaders plan to work “collaboratively” with Smithfield to find solutions moving forward.

Smithfield Foods announced in a press release Friday that it has halted all harvesting and processing operations in Vernon, California, early next year and plans to “align its hog production system by reducing its growing herd in its western region.”

That includes reducing its herd grown in western central Utah and possibly moving out of its farms in Arizona and California, according to Smithfield Foods. The company said it was taking these steps because of the “increasing cost of doing business in California.”

Company officials said they are providing “transition assistance” to affected employees, including offering in-company transfer options and incentives to continue working until early next year.

“We are grateful to our team members in the Western Region for their dedication and valuable contributions to our mission. We are committed to providing financial assistance and other relocation assistance to employees impacted by this difficult decision,” Smithfield COO Brady Stewart said in the statement.

Jim Munro, vice president of corporate affairs at Smithfield Foods, said in an interview that he wasn’t sure how county leaders came to estimate that two-thirds of employees would be affected. He said that the number of jobs that will be affected has not yet been determined by the company.

Monroe said Smithfield has not disclosed what percentage of the seeding herd it plans to cut in Utah, nor will it say how many pigs the company has in the state. The company plans to move most of its operations to the Midwest, and the pigs in Utah will go to a different facility.

He noted that Smithfield does not plan to end the renewable energy program, through which manure from hog farms produces renewable natural gas.

Local leaders also decried the potential impact on food security across the state.

“I think it’s bigger than us, it’s bigger than Beaver County, it’s bigger than Utah,” County Commissioner Tammy Pearson said.

“We have to keep these people in the business… We can’t lose this business,” Pearson said. “We will move heaven and earth to do what we have to do to maintain this.”

Contribute: Amy Joy O’Donoghue

Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for KSL.com. Ashley worked all her life as a reporter for Deseret News and graduated from Dixie State University.

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