By GIB SNYDER
OBSERVER City Editor
An area union president is voicing its concerns regarding the future of the Carriage House facilities in the Dunkirk-Fredonia ara.
Fredonia Mayor Steve Keefe
Thomas Dickerson of Chapter 266 NCFO/ SEIU32BJ, the union which serves workers at the local Carriage House facilities, has sent a letter to local officials and shared it with the OBSERVER.
"A dark cloud looms over the economic future of the Dunkirk-Fredonia area and Chautauqua County and the employees at Carriage House Companies are deeply concerned for our futures, our families and our communities," he writes. "Though Ralcorp, Inc., the parent company of Carriage House, has not announced its intentions, there is growing evidence that it intends to close up all of its Carriage House facilities in our communities and move the work to Buckner, Kentucky and elsewhere."
Dickerson cites evidence for his concern, noting the company is shutting down the Stegelske Street warehouse in Dunkirk and has announced it is closing down the product line which produces pourable salad dressings at the Talcott Street plant in Dunkirk and selling off that part of its business.
Another concern is a $98 million expansion at Ralcorp's Buckner, Ky. which is getting $10 million from that state toward the project. The kicker, the Buckner facility will then have the capacity to manufacture peanut butter, the only product it currently can't manufacture, according to Dickerson.
"Were Ralcorp to greatly reduce or completely close the Carriage House facilities, it will slam Chautauqua County with a devastating economic blow. Our communities can ill afford the loss of close to 500 good jobs or the shrinkage to its tax base," Dickerson wrote. "Needless to say, the impact on the members of Chapter 266 NCFO/SEIU32BJ would be catastrophic - especially in these difficult economic times. Moreover, Ralcorp is the major contributor to the pension plan covering current - and future - retirees, many of whom still live in this area. Ralcorp pulling out of this plan would certainly undermine it and perhaps force it into bankruptcy, greatly escalating the downward spiral of economic hardship."
Dickerson urged local officials to call on Ralcorp to be transparent in their plans and to engage in open discussions about renewing its commitment to continue its operations here. He also said the company should recognize "the great debt owed to our communities."
Fredonia Mayor Steven Keefe said it's tough to tell what's going on in the corporate world.
"I think what's going on right now is a rumor mill; it's boiling and sometimes when there's a rumor going around there might be facts behind it but I haven't seen anything that really justifies any of the rumors that are going around," he explained. "I think it's just fear of the unknown."
A loss of Carriage House would impact the village's finances through water and sewer fees, along with the property taxes the company pays.
"For us, the village, it would be a huge loss if that happened. We're more than willing and more than happy to do anything we could to keep the business here in town, but I don't have any real indication that the business is thinking about moving out of town," Keefe stated. "I can see where the union's coming from, but what I think they need to do is talk to their leadership, their corporate offices, and their local management, and make sure what's going on. I know that corporations, especially international corporations, are kind of quiet on the local level. That might be something that gives rise to the fear because nobody's saying no, this isn't going to happen, so i.e., it must be happening. Rather than say, nobody's saying it is happening, so maybe it's not happening.
"I know that to talk on a local basis for an international corporation it becomes kind of a situation that no one really wants to open up because nobody's really sure what's going on at all different levels."
Keefe said office personnel were previously relocated or lost their positions. He was also concerned with the loss of a local warehouse the company leased.
"That doesn't really mean that Ralcorp is looking at moving out of the region but I think it's got to be an expensive proposition to ship all of their finished products and storing them up there," he explained. "It would be much better if we had something local for them. If they wanted to expand or anything like that, I'd be more than happy to work with them at that level and promote that type of an idea."
Keefe was asked if there was room around the company's Fredonia facility, which is accessed from Newton Street.
"I think so. I can't speak 100 percent because I wouldn't know what size or capacity or anything like that, but we, as a village, we'd be more than happy to do anything we could to work with the corporation to keep them locally founded and locally producing," he replied. "I think everything is doom and gloom with the economy going the way it is. I think we've been lucky in a way that the recession took a long time before it ever found us, but now it is finding us and there are changes happening. I can't speak for an international corporation. It's always better when a local person owns the company. You have a company based out of England they can do business anywhere in the world and they do have the plant in Kentucky. I know that Kentucky is subsidizing the businesses down there. ... We're willing to do what it takes to keep the corporation here."
Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce was asked about the loss of jobs at the Carriage House Talcott Street facility and if there was anything the city could do.
"Right now we're in the research phase to see exactly what's coming down the pipeline," he replied. "We haven't been made aware of anything official. I received a letter from Tom (Dickerson). I read it through and again, we need to do our homework and proceed from there."
Dolce was asked if the Talcott Street facility was a significant water customer of the city.
"I don't know what the exact loss would be, but no doubt it would have a negative impact. We'll keep on it and see what we can do," he replied. "Hopefully, there's a way we can assist."
According to the Ralcorp website, Carriage House is a subsidiary of Ralcorp Holdings, Inc. (RAH), St. Louis, MO, which is also the parent of other leading food manufacturers including Cereal (Ralston Foods and Post), Frozen Bakery Products, and Private Brands including Bremner, Inc., Nutcracker Brands, Inc., Linette Quality Chocolates and Medallion Foods. Ralcorp was formed in 1994 (spun off from Ralston Purina), and is the industry leader in the private label and branded food categories in which they compete.
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