The Blue Bunny ice cream plant in St. George is closing, leaving 100 Utahns out of work.
"It was a complete shock when I got the call," said Scott Hirschi, director of Site Select Plus, a private-public partnership that supports economic development around St. George and helped recruit Wells Enterprises, Inc. to the area in 2003.
"I thought they were preparing to put on a third production line. I couldn’t have possibly been more surprised — and disappointed," he added, citing contributions to the community made by plant manager Ken Kaneversky and his staff in supporting the St. George Marathon and supplying root beer floats for the city’s birthday celebration.
Hirschi said he is meeting Thursday with representatives of Wells Enterprises, hoping to learn more about the Le Mars, Iowa, company’s plans for the ice cream factory and the laid-off employees, 92 of whom worked full-time.
"I don’t know if they’re going to mothball the plant, or if it will go onto the market for sale or lease. There are a lot of questions I can’t answer right now," he said.
An Associated Press story quoted company spokeswoman Liz Croston as saying the Utah plant will close by year’s end, enabling Wells Enterprises to "more effectively compete in the ice cream category that has been flat to declining for several years."
Founded in 1913, Wells Enterprises is the largest privately held, family-owned ice cream and frozen treat manufacturer in the United States. It produces more than 150 million gallons of ice cream annually under the brand names Blue Bunny, 2nd St. Creamery and the Bomb Pop.
Wells also manufactures licensed frozen treat brands, including Yoplait frozen yogurt and Weight Watchers frozen novelties. The company had more than 2,500 employees before this consolidation.
While disappointed to lose a company he courted fervently, Hirschi said he already has received inquiries from companies about the Blue Bunny factory and employees.
"I’m pleasantly surprised at the interest in the facility and the workers," he noted. "It’s caused quite a bit of [interest] in the market."
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