SLEEPY EYE, Minn. (KELO) — If you have traveled east on Highway 14 into southern Minnesota, it’s a landmark you’ll likely recognize.
Work at the Del Monte Plant in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota will soon come to an end.
A cold October rain only adds to the somber mood many are feeling in Sleepy Eye.
“When people think of Sleepy Eye, a big part of that is Del Monte,” said. Dr. Karlyn Armbruster.
She is referring to the Del Monte’s canning plant west of town, where it has been a local fixture for nearly 90 years. To the surprise of employees and the local business community, Del Monte abruptly announced in late August that this will be its final season of operation.
For the more than 300 workers, their jobs are being eliminated.
“It came as a complete surprise, nobody was expecting it,” said Sleepy Eye Economic Development Coordinator Kurk Kramer.
He remains optimistic that the plant can be sold to another food packing company. While at least one has expressed interest in the property, other businesses are also interested in the property.
“We’re going to have to figure out what we can do with a facility of that size, but I’ve had a number of inquiries by other businesses from around the state,” Kramer said.
And it’s not just plant workers feeling the pinch of the shutdown. Del Monte contracted with dozens of area farmers who grew sweet corn and peas on some 22,000 acres of local cropland. Not to mention all the ancillary sub-contractors like trucking companies, implement dealers and power suppliers. That’s why residents are worried about the wider impacts the closure will have.
Still, the city’s resiliency can be seen along a renovated Main Street, where a once-shuttered theater has recently been renovated into a new brewery and coffee shop.
Local doctor and owner, Adam Armbruster, hopes his new venture is symbolic of what is possible with Del Monte’s plant.
“Ironically, it just so happens at the same time that we’re opening,” Armbruster said. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad timing, but we just have to keep plugging along.”
In a few more weeks, the corn piles outside the plant will diminish as the final crop is packed. Just like the jobs of so many, who will be left to wonder when their next paycheck comes.
Layoffs are being spread out over the next ten months.
New York-based Seneca Foods has shown interest in the plant, but there’s no indication that any deal is in the works.