TORRINGTON — In a letter to Torrington Mayor Mike Varney, Western Sugar Cooperative announced it will lay off 86 full-time employees beginning Nov. 14. The exit of those 86 employees will effectively end sugar-manufacturing operations at the Torrington plant, which began processing sugar beets in 1925 as one of the five Holly Sugar plants located in Wyoming.
“The letter basically said they were going to start laying off people on Nov. 14, or anytime within 14 days after that date,” said Varney of the notification. “So the drop-off date when those positions will be eliminated is Nov. 28.”
The layoffs and subsequent plant closure had been expected for more than two years, when Western Sugar announced plans to increase processing capacities in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and Fort Morgan, Colorado, but did not include the Torrington plant in those plans.
“This was a difficult decision for Western Sugar from the beginning,” explained Western Sugar spokesperson Heather Luther. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of growers in (the Torrington) area.
“We’ve had good employees over the years at the Torrington plant, and we will always be appreciative of their service. However, we are not losing any growers in the area.”
When Western Sugar first decided to stop processing sugar beets in Torrington, it also planned to use the factory to warehouse some of the sugar manufactured in the other plants, which would have kept four full-time employees working at this location. Several months ago, however, WSC announced it was going to produce and ship powdered sugar in the Torrington plant, a move that would add a few more jobs.
“By adding packaging and shipping powdered sugar, we were able to add 18 other jobs to the four we already planned, which was a plus,” Luther added. “We are going to have 22 full-time positions for terminal and warehouse work.
“Currently, we have nine people in those positions, so there are 13 new positions available.”
Asked if any of those positions have been offered to current employees facing termination, she said, “they were certainly welcome to apply for any position in our company.” Luther could not say, however, if any Torrington employees had applied for jobs in either the Scottsbluff or Fort Morgan plants.
Though Varney acknowledges it is gratifying to have those 22 jobs remain after the layoffs are complete, he is disappointed at the timing of the announcement.
“I had hoped (Western Sugar) could go through the Christmas season and start the layoffs on Jan. 1, but I understand they are going to just slice Torrington and Wheatland beets here and then they’re done.
“We expected this — I guess everybody did — but when the hammer falls, you really hate that it’s actually happening. I feel deep concern for our residents of Goshen County and Torrington in general. It’s not a good feeling at all.”
By Bud Patterson