Idled workers offered help after Dakota Premium Foods halts production


Dakota Premium Foods in South St. Paul recently halted production at the beef processing facility. The Minnesota Department of Employment will be holding a series of meetings Monday, July 14 to inform the 300 laid-off employees about unemployment benefits and the dislocated worker program. (Kaitlyn Roby/Review)

Mayor Baumann: “This is a devastating loss”

Due to a national cattle shortage, Dakota Premium Foods recently halted production at its South St. Paul beef processing facility, leaving about 300 employees without work.

South St. Paul Mayor Beth Baumann said the city didn’t expect the sudden shutdown.

“We are surprised and concerned about the closing of Dakota Premium,” Baumann said. “We know this is a devastating loss for the employees ... and a loss for the community.”

It’s the last facility of its kind in the city that used to be a hub for livestock trading and processing centers. American Foods Group, which has owned Dakota Premium Foods since 1989, said “an extremely short cattle supply” prompted the stop in production at the beef processing facility located at 425 Concord St. S.

The company plans to make available its staff, along with other agencies, to help employees deal with the layoff period.

“Having to layoff our valuable employees is the most difficult part of this decision,” American Foods Group spokesman Don Mehesan said in a statement. “We are unable at this time to determine how long the plant will remain closed. We will be exploring all of our options during this time, including major plant renovations to improve productivity and profitability.”

The company declined to offer any other information beyond its statement released July 2.

Help for employees

The closure is said to be temporary, but future plans for the city’s third largest employer are uncertain. In the meantime, various service and business organizations are extending help to the idled workers.

The River Heights Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Dakota Scott WorkForce Investment Board and Workforce Centers, offering gratitude, support and resources to the business and the employees in light of the closure announcement.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and the workforce centers are offering information on unemployment benefits, resume preparation and job searching.

About 20 idled employees have already sought assistance at the West St. Paul WorkForce Center at 1 Mendota Road W., according to Mark Jacobs, Dakota County workforce development director.

“What I have heard from staff ... is just the surprise (among the employees) of the event happening and figuring out the next steps,” Jacobs said. “That’s completely normal and expected in a situation like that.”

He said DEED will be holding a series of meetings Monday, July 14 at the union hall to inform laid-off employees about unemployment and the dislocated worker program.

“The good news is that this area’s got a strong community that will help folks make the transition, if a transition is needed,” Jacobs said.

Sudden, but not a total shock

The chamber was informed of the sudden closure prior to the company’s public announcement, according to Jennifer Gale, president of the chamber of commerce and its foundation, Progress Plus.

“The company has been talking for a while about possibly locating its product closer to its other plants,” Gale said. “Plus, the cattle shortage has made it hard and it’s more expensive.”

It’s not the first time the location has been reconsidered. The city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority in the past worked with the facility owners on the possible sale of the building, according to city administrator Steve King. 

Redevelopment discussed before

The valuable property is well suited for redevelopment, King said. Plus, it’s surrounded by a new Interstate Partners development in the BridgePoint Business Park (the old stockyards just off of I-494) and a vacant property, the former Stock Lumber site, which is for sale by the HRA.

He noted it’s possible the sale of the HRA property has been affected by its proximity to the Dakota Premium processing plant.

The city is not sure of the company’s plans, but it will work with whatever happens, King said.

One possible outcome could be demolishing the building, King said.

“There will be people that argue that that’s a good thing; it’s a new opportunity,” King said. “The flipside, of course, is that we’re talking about real people losing their jobs.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.


Beef shortage

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been tracking a drought in the Southwest and in parts of the lower Midwest, a major factor in the waning national cattle supply.

The severely dry conditions and higher feed prices have tightened beef production in the past couple years, according to the USDA. The U.S. cattle herd hasn’t been this small for more than 60 years.

“We regret that the current limited cattle supplies, the smallest numbers since the early 1950s, has forced us to make this very difficult decision,” American Foods Group spokesman Don Mehesan said in a statement.

American Foods Group has locations in five states in the Midwest, including Wisconsin, South Dakota and Ohio. It’s the fifth largest beef processing company in the country with more than 4,000 employees.

The company hopes the industry will bounce back, he said, but how the company will remedy the closure is up in the air.

“Our hope is that the available cattle supplies will increase in the coming months,” Mehesan said.

 

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