Rochelle Kraft Plant to Close

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Kraft Foods announced Wednesday its plant in Rochelle will be closing October 1st. Spokespeople say they've decided to consolidate production of the ready-made pudding produced in Rochelle to two other sites in Iowa and Ontario, citing that those plants have better equipment. But they say they won't find better workers than the 58 who will lose their jobs in the switch.
"We have a tremendous group of employees at this facility and this is in no way a reflection on them or on their efforts," says Kraft Foods Spokeswoman Cathy Purnu.
The plant has a long history in Rochelle, it was initially built as a cannery in 1903. Kraft plans to sell the property once it's done with production in October and many community members worry what that might mean.
"It just effects everybody in the the whole community when a company closes. You wonder what's coming in or in what way it's going to help the community," says Rochelle resident Sandra Navejas, who has many relatives who work at the plant.
Rochelle's economic development director, Jason Anderson, has high hopes for the future of the property.
"I have had three requests recently for 50 to 100,000 square foot buildings, looking for projects that would fit in that kind of footprint. So if, in fact, Kraft is going to sell that facility, I believe we'll find someone that might very well be interested in reoccupying it," says Anderson.
Several plants in Rochelle are set to expand soon so Anderson says he's optimistic they'll be able to find new jobs for Kraft's displaced workers. Kraft has also pledged to help out employees, so they won't be left out in the cold when the doors swing shut for good.
Anderson says Sara Lee is expanding to add 15 to 20 new jobs or more in the area very soon. He says there are other expansions he can't announce yet, but says manufacturing employment is high in Rochelle right now.
Kraft is now working with its emplyees' union to work out the separation agreement and decide exactly what benefits workers will get. Kraft spokespeople say they will encourage Rochelle employees to apply for jobs at other Kraft plants.

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