In yet another blow to the Fort Smith regional economy, 150 jobs will be leaving Van Buren with production being consolidated into an Allens canning operation in Siloam Springs.
The closure in Van Buren is effective Friday (Mar. 1). The company’s Van Buren warehouse operation will remain open.
It is unclear how many jobs will be added in Siloam Springs as a result of the move. However, the move by Siloam Springs-based Allens will help a Northwest Arkansas economy that is one of the hottest in the country in terms of employment.
December’s jobless rate in Northwest Arkansas was 5.1%, up compared to 4.6% in November but below the 5.7% during December 2011.
The size of the Northwest Arkansas regional workforce during December was 235,174, down from the 237,860 during November, but almost 3,500 larger than the 231,708 during December 2011.
The number of employed during December was 223,228, down from 226,883 in November. The December employment was more than 4,700 jobs higher than the 218,463 in December 2011.
VAN BUREN, COMPANY HISTORY
Consolidating the canning operations comes more than 30 months after Van Buren operations were expanded.
In June 2010 the company announced a more than $20 million expansion that included a $13.5 million investment in the company’s Van Buren operation. The $13.5 million investment in Van Buren expanded the company’s capacity to process sweet potatoes.
In March 2012 the company announced it was selling a majority of its frozen vegetable operations to focus on its core business of canned and Southern-style frozen brands. The French company, Bonduelle Group, was expected to buy four of Allens’ six frozen vegetable operations. No financial terms were released.
In 2006, Allens entered the frozen vegetable segment by acquiring the Birds Eye brand products. It opened its canning business in 1926.
FORT SMITH REGIONAL JOBS PICTURE
The move by Allens comes at a time when the employment situation in the region is anything but positive. Economic conditions in the Fort Smith metro area worsened in December, with the workforce shrinking by more than 1,800 and the number of employed shrinking by more than 1,000 compared to December 2011. The December figures are the most recent provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. January numbers are set for a March 22 release.
The unemployment rate for the region rose to 8.1% in December, up from 7.6% in November, but below the 8.5% in December 2011.
December was the 48th consecutive month the metro jobless rate has been at or above 7%. It was also the sixth month during 2012 that the jobless rate was at or above 8%. The number of employed during December fell to 115,793 from 117,761 in November. The December employment was also below the 116,847 in December 2011.