Western Sugar announces mass layoff at Torrington factory
TORRINGTON, Wyo. — In a letter sent to the City of Torrington, Western Sugar Cooperative announced mass layoffs of 92 employees starting in January 2019 at its Torrington factory located at 400 Main St.
The letter was sent to the city to inform them that “based on current and projected business plans and needs, the Company intends to permanently layoff employees at this Facility.”
The layoffs are expected to take effect on Jan. 10, 2019. The Star-Herald reached out to Western Sugar for further comment, but did not receive a reply before press time.
Mayor Mike Varney said he was shocked when he received the letter.
“I really thought we were through with those (sugar factory) issues,” he said, referring to a period of uncertainty at the end of 2016, when Western Sugar had announced the closing of the factory.
Gilbert Servantez, Torrington center manager for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, said his office is trying to provide services for the workers when the layoffs are implemented.
“We’re performing what we call a rapid response,” he said.
The department will offer unemployment insurance and employment training services.
“The workers are going to be displaced workers, so they’ll be able to qualify for all of our programming.”
While his department is going to try to keep the employees in Goshen County, Servantez said there is generally only 40-50 jobs available at any one time, and which are unlikely to match the wages and benefits of the jobs lost.
“We’re going to do what we can to have our workforce stay here,” he said. “But a lot of these workers are used to making a pretty good wage, and currently our employment opportunities that are available are not going to support top wages.”
For the city, the layoffs could potentially lead to a drop in population. With the 2020 census on the horizon, state aid and taxes are on the line.
“Our money is figured on numbers,” Varney said. “When the state does their direct distribution, that’s figured on population. Gas tax is figured on population, sales tax is. It cripples us every way there is. For 10 years, you have to live on that.”
The letter does not mention the factory’s future. For Torrington, the factory, although located outside of Torrington’s city limits, is the city’s single biggest electricity customer.
“I would say maybe 10 percent of our electric distribution goes to the factory, especially when they have a good long season like they had last year,” Varney said. “If we lose that much from electrical sales, it’s going to affect the budget. Where’s that cut going to come? Equipment? People? Supplies? We haven’t even talked about that.”
Ashley Harpstreith, CEO of Goshen County Economic Development, took a more optimistic view of the situation..
“It’s an unfortunate event, knowing that it’s been a huge employer of ours for a very long time and a big part of our economy, but in every situation there’s an opportunity,” she said.