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Newsmaker of the month: An abrupt change with Wells

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford Dunkirk’s Wells ice cream location will be making substantial reductions in 2023, the company reported Thursday.

In the heart of ice cream season, workers and residents in the north county received an unexpected jolt. Wells Enterprises, which had invested more than $90 million into its Dunkirk facility, decided to abruptly pull back near the end of July. In the process, the company was going from nearly 20 production lines to five.

This week, through a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act filed Tuesday, community members learned the number of individuals affected by the layoffs will total 319. That’s unthinkable for a location that was working for the last two years to find workers.

In fact, during an employment fair at the Clarion Hotel in May 2021, company President and CEO Michael Wells indicated there were more than 700 people working at the plant.

“We’re committed to being a good employer and community partner, and by offering stable career opportunities and building our relationships with the broader Dunkirk area,” he said at the time.

There’s a belief that infrastructure issues with the plant may have led to some of the sudden changes. But no one can be sure.

In a statement over the summer, company officials remained mum. “Wells Enterprises is always evaluating and evolving our business strategies to ensure the long-term sustainability of our organization and to meet consumer demand for our products,” the statement said. “As market trends shift in our industry, we adapt and optimize our operations to ensure continued success of our business. We recently completed a comprehensive review of our manufacturing footprint and our needs to support our overall business strategy.”

Adding to some of the angst was a major freezer facility, Americold, built near the ice cream manufacturer. Only weeks before the announcement by Wells did the plant off Williams Road hold its grand opening.

Dunkirk remains a manufacturing community as facilities such as Refresco and Nestle Purina continue to plug away. Reductions by Wells, however, have left a bad taste with residents and numerous county and area leaders.

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