STANWOOD — Frozen vegetable processor Twin City Foods plans to close its packaging plant in Stanwood, affecting as many as 85 employees.
The plant, which has been an institution in the community for decades, is expected to shut down next year and equipment will be shifted to a plant in Pasco, said Sue Casteel, corporate human resources manager.
“We’ve got about 85 people working in the plant right now,” Casteel said. “Some of them will be transferring to our Pasco or Ellensburg operations and some of them will retire. We do have plans to provide some assistance for those who are laid off.”
Employees make between $12 and $27 per hour, depending on experience. Many of the employees have been working at the plant for years, including one who recently retired after 42 years, said Rachel McKibbin, Teamsters Local 231, which represents the workers at the plant.
“They have had generations of families who have worked at that plant,” McKibbin said. “I think it’s really sad for the community.”
Another four truck drivers represented by Teamsters Local 38 also could lose their jobs, she said.
Stanwood Mayor Leonard Kelley said the closure means a blow to family-wage jobs in Stanwood.
“I’m sure there will be some effect on the community,” he said. “We’re also losing a piece of our heritage.”
Twin City Foods processes and packages mostly carrots, peas, baby lima beans, corn and green beans. Twin City Foods will keep its corporate office in Stanwood, which employs about 35 to 40.
Other plants are in Ellensburg, Pasco, Kennewick and Lake Odessa, Michigan, where the green beans are grown. The company employs a total of 600.
Twin City Foods doesn’t own its own label. It sells frozen vegetables for other companies to market.
“I’d love to name some for you, but I can’t, because that’s private information for them,” Casteel said. “We package for a lot of the labels you would see in grocery stores.”
The reason for the Stanwood closure is pricing pressure, overcapacity from competitors and transportation costs, Casteel said.
About 90 percent of the company’s vegetables are grown within an 80-mile radius of Pasco, Casteel said. Those vegetables are frozen at plants in Pasco and Ellensburg and then shipped to Stanwood for packaging. The frozen vegetables are then shipped to the ports of Tacoma and Seattle.
Transportation costs have made it difficult to justify keeping a Stanwood plant open, especially as traffic has worsened in the Puget Sound area.
“We can run a truck from our Ellensburg facility straight into Tacoma almost faster than we can from Stanwood,” Casteel said.
She said that part of this is a historical shift in how land is used in Snohomish and Skagit counties.
The company started in Stanwood in 1943 and is still owned by the local Lervick family. Back then, farms all over Western Washington produced vegetables to feed into the plant. Since then, farms have gotten smaller and smaller in this area as development has grown, Casteel said.
When the plant burned down in 1996, Twin City Foods rebuilt, but has been shifting operations away from Stanwood. In 2009, Twin City Foods stopped processing fresh vegetables at the plant.
Stanwood’s mayor remembers when the parking lot at the plant used to be filled with corn and other vegetables hauled in for processing. Over the years, operations were cut back, and the lot was less and less crowded.
The struggles faced by Twin City Foods are common ones, Kelley said.
“I’ve actually kind of expected this, anticipated it over the years, not because of my position as mayor but because of my former position as a union rep representing employees,” he said. “As we’ve seen dwindling farmland on this side of the mountains, and more development on the other side, we’ve seen the changes.”
Twin City Foods notified unions of the move in 2016 to give the employees as much notice as possible, Casteel said.
Twin City will shift some of its equipment to Pasco in early 2018 and then several months later move the rest over, Casteel said. About a half dozen employees will remain for months afterward as all of the remaining product is dispersed.
Twin City Foods will try to sell or lease its 202,575-square-foot plant at 10120 269th Place NW in Stanwood. Ideally, another business will move into the plant, such as a seafood manufacturer who would hire some of the affected employees, Casteel said.
“We’re anxious to have as many of them that we can get to transfer because we need that experience over in Pasco,” Casteel said.
Union representative McKibbin said whether workers follow the plant to Eastern Washington will be based on a family by family decision. For some, it may be a great opportunity. For others, especially with kids in schools or family in the area, it would be difficult to relocate.
“It’s nice the company recognizes that they have employees with a lot of experience and a lot of experience with their equipment,” McKibbin said.
Herald writer Kari Bray contributed to this report.