ConAgra wraps up Slim Jim in Garner

Staff WriterMay 20, 2011 

Nearly two years after an explosion rocked the ConAgra Foods plant on Jones Sausage Road, the final Garner-made Slim Jim snack will roll out today.

The company is shutting down production as it shifts its meat-snacks operation to a plant in Troy, Ohio. At the Garner plant that has employed thousands of people since it opened more than 40 years ago, and most of the more than 200 remaining workers will be out of a job.

"We'll start the process of shutting it down and turning it over to the town," said Con Agra spokesman Dave Jackson. Later this year, the Omaha, Neb.-based company is donating the factory and 106 acres near Interstate 40.

ConAgra is leaving, but Garner officials have big hopes for the site. Two food-manufacturing companies have already toured the plant, and four more have expressed interest, said Tony Beasley, Garner's economic development director.

Garner wants companies that will create good jobs to replace the ConAgra positions, Beasley said.

On June 9, 2009, an explosion caused by natural gas crumbled walls and sent debris flying. Three workers died, and a contractor was mortally injured.

Garner and North Carolina officials tried to persuade ConAgra to rebuild, but the company decided it would be cheaper to transfer production to Ohio. Until the blast, Garner had been the world's only Slim Jim production site.

The plant has been a mainstay in town since the 1960s when it operated as the Jesse Jones Sausage factory. General Mills later bought the plant and began making Slim Jim snacks there. Goodmark Foods eventually bought the Slim Jim brand, and the company merged with Con Agra in 1998.

In 2007, ConAgra began a $38.5 million project to upgrade and automate production lines.

Over the decades, the plant has provided decent-paying jobs in this southeast Wake blue-collar town. At the time of the blast, Con Agra had about 900 workers at the Garner site.

As production was scaled back, hundreds of workers were laid off. In November 2009, 250 workers were let go, Jackson said. An additional 243 were laid off last month.

"It's sort of sad to see it go away," Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams said. "There will be some time of reflection for me personally. ... It will be sad for a lot of people."

ConAgra's departure will be low-key. No public events are planned today, Jackson said.

Starting next week, a crew of fewer than 20 workers will return to shut down the facility and clean up, he said.

sarah.nagem@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4758

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