Chamber president, others 'caught by surprise' with Pepperidge Farm closure

News 12 at First at Five / Friday, June 28, 2013

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- For Nikki Youngblood and Regina Fulmer, it's another day of serving up gourmet hot dogs at the Runway Dog Cafe in Aiken.

Owner Fulmer and worker Youngblood have heard the bad news. The neighboring Pepperidge Farm bakery will soon close its doors for good.

"With them gone, I mean, it will affect us in some way," Youngblood said.

"And I think they've advertised for us by word of mouth tremendously," Fulmer said.

"Even their truck drivers, the one that, you know, pick up bread to take to different states and areas, they always pull up outside, because it's easy for them to park their trucks, and they come get hot dogs to go," Youngblood said.

That means fewer dogs and fewer jobs.

On Thursday, the company announced a consolidation that'll mean all 115 workers in the Aiken bakery will be laid off by March of next year.

"I got caught by surprise with this information like the workforce did and saddened because this company has been such a great corporate member for 35 years," said Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce President and CEO J. David Jameson.

Goldfish, bread and stuffing mix are all products that soon won't be made in Aiken.

Jameson says he would have liked an opportunity to negotiate, but he didn't have the opportunity with the company or parent company Campbell Soup.

"It could be that simple," Jameson said. "It could be that maybe an incentive package could have been put together or some other things that the community could have done to save these jobs. We do not like to lose a single job in Aiken."

Even with the bad news, the dogs are still boiling at Runway Dog Cafe, but the closure could take a big bite out of the small business.

"We had Ms. Judy, and Ms. Diane and Ms. Risa. They were regulars," said Youngblood, adding that many of the workers were frequent diners.

"The bakery industry in the United States is becoming increasingly consolidated and competitive. In order to continue to grow and flourish, Pepperidge Farm needs to be innovative and agile, with the most cost-effective manufacturing facilities," said Bill Livingstone, senior vice president of Pepperidge Farm in a news release.

South Carolina State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, was saddened by the news, too. He says help is on the way.

Taylor says that South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt plans to send his "triage team" to assist the company in the transition. He hopes this team will identify new companies where laid-off workers can find new jobs. Taylor says representatives from the South Carolina Department of Workforce's Rapid Response Unit will also be on-site on Monday. The company says workers will be given comprehensive support packages. Pepperidge Farm will also hold a job fair.

The Economic Development Partnership of Aiken and Edgefield counties is already working on finding a new business to relocate to the facility. Director Will Williams says the site is a premium location, given its proximity to both the Aiken Municipal Airport and I-20.


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