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Wrigley job cuts to affect Hall County plant

Number of layoffs at Flowery Branch site won’t be known for more than a month

POSTED: September 30, 2009 11:32 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS /The Times

The Wrigley plant, at 4500 Atlanta Highway off Interstate 985, is in the process of evaluating voluntary separations.

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The Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. plans to lay off 5 percent of its North American manufacturing and logistics work force, which includes employees at its Flowery Branch plant, plant manager Jim Fitzgerald said Wednesday.

"It’s a difficult decision, obviously, but we need to align our staffing at the appropriate level to ensure that we can continue to achieve our business goals and really build the strongest operation and production network possible," Fitzgerald said.

Periodically, Wrigley "has to go back and assess our manufacturing base against our operating strategy and, as a result of that, we had to (make) this difficult decision," he added.

The chewing gum manufacturer has some 2,200 employees at plants in Flowery Branch; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Yorkville, Ill.; Toronto; and the regional supply chain office in Chicago.

The Flowery Branch plant has 875 employees, Fitzgerald said.

The exact number of layoffs at the local plant has yet to be determined.

"We’re in the process now of evaluating who is deciding to take voluntary separation and then we’ll see where we go from there," Fitzgerald said. "(The total number) won’t be known for a month-and-a-half or so.

"It’s a process that will take some time, and we explained that clearly to all associates — every shift (Tuesday) night and we’re going back through this morning and covering smaller groups of associates, answering questions and making sure they have all the information."

The plant, at 4500 Atlanta Highway off Interstate 985, began operating in December 1971 with 100 employees.

In 2006, Wrigley announced a $48 million expansion of the factory, creating 200 new jobs.

Then, in September 2008, Wrigley announced that its stockholders had overwhelmingly approved the adoption of a merger agreement with Mars Inc.

Chamber president Kit Dunlap said she believes the Wrigley layoffs represent "what most companies have done (in the recession)" in terms of self-examination.

"Wrigley’s is in here for the long haul. It’s their largest manufacturing (plant) in the United States," Dunlap said.

The company "is very committed to Hall County, outside of the action we have to take to restructure to meet our business requirements," Fitzgerald said.

"We do see a long-term commitment here and we do see great opportunity to continue to grow the business here. It’s just that we have to take this step, but moving forward, it’s still a very strong business."

In terms of area employment, the unemployment rate has been heading in the right direction.

The Georgia Department of Labor reported Sept. 24 that the preliminary unadjusted unemployment rate in the metro Gainesville area, which includes all of Hall County, dropped to 9.1 percent in August, down from 9.4 percent in July.

By comparison, however, the jobless rate was 5.7 percent in August 2008.



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