MILLSBORO, Del. - Layoffs at the Vlasic pickle plant in Sussex County could begin as early as next week.
Owner Pinnacle Foods will begin to release hourly employees in phases at the end of September as green season production wraps up, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Rowland via email.
About 200 people work at the Millsboro facility; it is unclear exactly how many are hourly workers.
Last May, the company announced plans to shut operations by the end of the year as part of consolidation with another facility in Michigan.
An employee exiting the plant on Friday, who did not give his name, said he and other workers were informed their last day would be Sept. 28.
Rowland said a majority of salaried employees would continue working until the end of the year, along with manufacturing. Warehousing functions are set to remain open until mid-2013.
"It is never an easy decision to close a plant, and we came to that decision only after an analysis of all options," the company said in the statement.
Gov. Jack Markell and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) personally visited the plant shortly after the consolidation announcement urging the company to stay, said Nikki Lavoie, spokeswoman for the Delaware Economic Development Office.
Several companies have expressed interest in the property, which is listed for sale, but no offers were made, Lavoie said. The state agency is not naming companies but said it is hopeful to reach a deal soon. To her knowledge, Lavoie said no incentive packages have been offered yet.
"I feel that whatever business closes up for whatever reason is going to impact the economy in the area, no matter what," said Gary Letterhouse Sr., who lives across from the plant and has befriended several employees.
The changes could have a ripple effect on the county, but the exact degree is still unclear.
"Anytime you lose a large employer like that, it has an exponential effect on the economy," said Sussex County administrator Todd Lawson. "We're greatly concerned."
Uncertainly is also spreading among local cucumber growers who supply the plant.
"They're obviously concerned," Lawson said. "The Department of Agriculture is working with them to see what can be done as far as a contingency plan."
Pinnacle said it will host a job fair with local companies and consider out-going employees for openings at its other facilities.
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