Bremner to close Poteau cracker plant

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 675 views 

Poteau Mayor Jeff Shockley said Wednesday that the Bremner Cracker plant in the city will close June 29. The closure will result in about 240 lost jobs.

5NEWS, a content partner with The City Wire, first reported on the plant closure.

Ray Smith, with Ralcorp Holdings, told 5NEWS they are still in the early stages of this decision and haven't determined what they will do with the plant once it is closed. He said during the next 60 days as they will have a better idea of what they might do with the plant.

Smith said about 240 workers will lose their jobs and Ralcorp will work them to help the employees with transition assistance and working with the state to help them find new jobs. He says no decision has been made if they will be offered jobs at other Ralcorp Holdings properties.

Concerns about the plant’s future have been building for years.

Bremner Food Group announced in April 2011 plans to cut approximately 135 positions at its Poteau cracker plant. Company officials then blamed the reductions on seasonal demand and other volume declines at the location. The facility produces a variety of cracker products.

As of September 2009, the company employed 500 in Poteau. The hourly employees in Poteau are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union, local 346.

The Bremner jobs loss will burden a Fort Smith metro economy that continues to struggle with employment.

The number of employed in the Fort Smith region fell to an estimated 115,893 during January, a low not seen since January 1998, according to figures released Mar. 26 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Fort Smith’s metro area jobless rate jumped to 8.9% in January, almost a full percentage higher than the December rate, but below the 9.2% during January 2011.

Fort Smith’s manufacturing sector employed an estimated 18,600 in January, below the 18,700 in December 2011, and below the 20,800 during January 2011. Employment in the sector is down more than 39% from more than a decade ago when January 2001 manufacturing employment in the metro area stood at 30,700.

Unfortunately, the Bremner plant will close about the same time Whirlpool has said it will close its Fort Smith refrigeration manufacturing plant. That closing will result in about 1,000 lost jobs.

Bremner is a division of St. Louis-based Ralcorp, the company that purchased in 1997 the Wortz cracker plant in Poteau. Ralcorp employs about 10,000 in the U.S. and Canada, with fiscal 2011 sales of more than $4.7 billion. Bremner is the nation’s largest supplier of private label cookies and crackers and produces quality emulations of the leading national brand cookies and crackers.

Ralcorp reported a fiscal 2011 net income loss of $187.2 million, compared to a 2010 fiscal net income of $208.8 million. The loss resulted from an accounting charge to account for changes in values of trademarks related to its Post cereal brands. Net sales during fiscal 2011 totaled $4.741 billion, up 17% compared to the 2010 period.

Ralcorp shares (NYSE: RAH) closed Wednesday (Mar. 28) at $73.74, up 29 cents. During the past 52 weeks the share price has ranged from a $91.35 high to a $65.21 low.