NEWPORT—City and county leaders held a brief press conference Thursday evening to address concerns over the recent announcement that Conagra will close in January 2021.
Lucas Graham, Cocke County Partnership President, said he has limited information at this point in time, but that local leaders are on top of the situation.
“We don’t really have a ton of information at this point, and new things are coming up every few minutes,” Graham said.
“I want to assure the public that we are on top of the situation with Conagra. Everything that can be done is being done. This is a round the clock situation, and it will be a long few weeks to get everything figured out. We’re doing everything we possibly can with our state, federal and local partners to come up with solutions.”
A statement from the company was released early Wednesday morning saying the decision to close the Newport facility was made in an effort to optimize the recently expanded network of plants and improve efficiency.
“These changes will allow us to optimize our expanded network, which grew upon our acquisition of Pinnacle Foods last year. We explored a variety of options and have determined that this decision will allow the company to increase efficiencies within the larger scope of our company,” the release said.
“We regularly review operating costs across the business in an effort to become more lean, efficient and productive. This is a routine exercise that includes every facility in our network.”
Graham said that communications have been limited, but noted that no local or state issue was a deciding factor in the company’s decision.
“The only direct response I have received from a Conagra official was them saying their decision to move was strictly a corporate strategy and vertical alignment opportunity. Any kind of local or state situation had no involvement,” Graham said.
He hopes that more information will become available in the coming days as the lines of communication start to open up.
“We don’t have specifics right now and communication has been somewhat limited. Direct lines of communication have started to pick up with Conagra’s corporate team and we’ll know more in the next few days.”
Cocke County Mayor Crystal Ottinger said that officials at all levels have made this situation a priority. She said they have offered to help in any way they can.
“There is not a state, local or federal official who doesn’t have this as their number one priority right now,” Ottinger said.
“Everyone on all levels that we have reached out to has jumped right on board and this has become their primary focus.”
Newport Mayor Roland “Trey” Dykes, III said he has been in contact with many of the same officials.
He said the Department of Labor and Workforce Development reached out immediately after the announcement was made.
“Personally I have been in touch with many of the officials from Congressman Phil Roe to Governor Bill Lee and a few others,” Dykes said.
“Our workforce development folks over in Morristown were on top of things yesterday morning as soon as they heard the announcement. We have had a lot of contact with officials who want to help in any way they can.”
Dykes went on to say that Dr. Tony Miksa and Walters State Community College have also reached out to offer any assistance they can provide.