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ConAgra unlikely to reverse plant closings in Fredonia, Dunkirk

FREDONIA – Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan does not see any chance of reversing ConAgra’s decision to close food processing plants in Fredonia and Dunkirk.

The company’s announcement Wednesday that the former Carriage House plant in Fredonia and another facility in Dunkirk would be closed has rippled throughout Chautauqua County as 425 workers will lose their jobs over the next year. The plan for the immediate future is to call in the Workforce Investment Board and local employment specialists.

“At least ConAgra sounds like it wants to help people who work there to transition to other jobs,” Horrigan said.

Horrigan said he had a meeting scheduled with representatives of ConAgra on Friday but they did not show for the session. The meeting had been scheduled for several weeks, and Horrigan said he held hope that there was going to be positive news when he met with company representatives.

“Just two days before the meeting, they make the announcement,” he said.

Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency Chairman Bill Daly confirmed that he had been in touch with officials at ConAgra on a regular basis.

“I was blindsided,” he said.

Horrigan said he received an email from Operations Manager Mark Chamberlin, who confirmed that the company is going forward with its plans and there was nothing that could be done.

“It’s a business decision,” Horrigan said.

The company claims that the market for jam and jelly is soft, he said. The company also manufactures peanut butter, sauces, ketchup and juices.

“We have already heard from some other manufacturers who say they are interested in the buildings,” Horrigan said. “At this point I can’t say too much.

“Our priority has to be to keep these people working,” he said.

Horrigan said he tried to press ConAgra representatives about whether they would take out all the equipment or leave some of it behind. He said they are not sharing any information about the equipment or the closures. He said they confirmed that some products will be made by other facilities the company owns but he did not expect any local employees would get offers to transfer to other locations.

Horrigan said the ripple effect of the closing has just started and he expects more of an impact as ConAgra phases out the jobs. Locally, one of the first outside losses was heard from grape farmers who will not be able to sell their produce to ConAgra.

County Legislator George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, who grew up in Fredonia, spoke out about the topic at the Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting last week in Mayville.

“I was on the phone with probably the same guy in Washington, the head of their government relations from ConAgra, and he was feeding me all kinds of sunshine about the situation, but their intention, in my opinion, is they bought it with the intention of eliminating the competition. It is certainly their right to do as a business but to be so unwilling to look at what we have to offer and what we could do to keep them here and to just completely shut us out from making our case is what is disturbing,” said Borrello.