New Brunswick

Grand Falls mayor predicts lost Dr. Oetker jobs will be replaced quickly

As 180 employees ponder what they'll do when Dr. Oetker closes its Grand Falls-area pizza-making plant, the mayor is confident at least 50 new local jobs will turn up in time.

Minister, MLA meet local mayors to brainstorm solutions

Dr. Oetker is closing its Saint-Andre plant near Grand Falls in May and will be moving 70 per cent of its manufacturing to the company's plant in London, Ont. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

As 180 employees ponder what they'll do when Dr. Oetker closes its Grand Falls-area pizza-making plant, the mayor is confident at least 50 new local jobs will turn up in time.

"It would not surprise me at all that by the time these folks are out of a job, something will pop up for them," Mayor Marcel Deschênes told Information Morning Fredericton.

"We are resilient."

Citing a challenging retail food market, Dr. Oetker has announced that in May, it will close the plant in Saint-André, outside Grand Falls, and move most of the production to London, Ont. The rest will go to Lodi, N.J.

Marcel Deschênes, mayor of Grand Falls, calls the loss of the 180 jobs is a 'huge blow to the community.' (Shane Fowler/CBC News)

"It's just a business decision, one that is hard to swallow," Deschênes said. 

"There's never a good time to lose a job."

The company promised severance packages and a $4 million community fund to help with retraining and to soften the blow to the town.

Treasury Board President Roger Melanson says the province will do everything it can to help the Grand Falls area. (CBC News)

Treasury Board President Roger Melanson described the job losses as a "very difficult situation for the Grand Falls area."

"It is unfortunate, we do want to help as much as we can, the employees being affected," he said. 

Local politicians brainstorm solutions 

Labour Minister Gilles LePage and local MLA Chuck Chiasson met with community leaders on Wednesday to see how government could help employees make the transition to other work. 

"My department's focus is on the employees right now," LePage said after the meeting.

"What we're telling all employees is that we're here, we've got their back."

Political leaders gathered in Grand Falls on Wednesay, including, from left, Labour Minister Gilles LePage, Saint-André Mayor Marcel Levesque, Victoria-La Vallée MLA Chuck Chiasson and Grand Falls Mayor Marcel Deschênes.

Chiasson said the group discussed options for helping the affected employees find work, including retraining and trying to attract new businesses to the area. 

Community leaders are hopeful the town can overcome the setback and "make lemonade out of this lemon we've been given," he said.

Cécile Van Zandijcke, Dr. Oetker's executive vice-president, said the company has started meeting with each employee individually to discuss what's needed to move forward.  

In a small community, there's a lot of tweaking that needs to be done to get them back in the workforce.-Marcel  Deschênes , mayor of Grand Falls

"At Dr. Oetker we are focused 100 per cent on our employees at Grand Falls," she said.

Van Zandijcke said preliminary discussions with Mayor Deschênes and provincial and federal officials were also held.

"All of these conversations have been co-operative and productive and we look forward to continuing this important work."

Grand Falls and Saint-André sit in a region between Edmundston and Woodstock that has shown the lowest unemployment rate in the province in recent months, according to Statistics Canada.

Deschênes said he is going to do everything possible to get the Dr. Oetker employees back in the workforce after the closure. 

"These are people that I've known for years that have been working there," he said. "They contribute to our economy."

Getting back into the workforce 

He said he's already been in touch with an employer in the area who will need about 50 additional workers in the spring. He would not identify the company but said a list of jobs will be coming out.

About 20 per cent of Dr. Oetker's workforce in Grand Falls is on the verge of retirement, Deschênes said.

The planned closure has nothing to do with the quality of the product coming out of Grand Falls but with the competitive  conditions in the industry, he said.

The company promised severance packages and a $4 million community fund to help with retraining and to soften the blow to the area. (Shane Fowler/CBC New Brunswick)

"They had to invest quite a bit of money in their equipment … at the end of the day they felt it was better to invest in their London plant than do so in the Grand Falls plant."

In its announcement of the closure, the company said the retail food climate has become "increasingly challenging" in recent years in terms of price and costs.

Dr. Oetker had worldwide sales of $3 billion in 2016, according to its website. 

"In a small community, there's a lot of tweaking that needs to be done to get them back in the workforce," Deschênes said.

"My heart goes out to all the employees and their families."

Corrections

  • Earlier versions of this story incorrectly placed the Dr. Oetker plant in Grand Falls when, in fact, it's in Saint-André next door.
    Feb 05, 2018 1:53 PM AT

With files from Shane Fowler and Nathalie Sturgeon