Siouxland struggles as 1,500 lose jobs in plant closing

Around 1,500 people are spending their first full week without a job after one of the Siouxland area’s largest employers closed its doors last week. The owners of the John Morrell hog processing plant in Sioux City, Iowa, blamed the economy and the condition of the 62-year-old facility.
Duane Behrens worked as a mechanic at the plant for more than two decades, but says he’s somewhat relieved to be moving on. “It paid the bills for 21 years,” Behrens said after leaving the plant for the final time last Friday. “I have mixed emotions about it. I’ve wanted out of there for a long time to do something different. But, after so many years, I hated to give all of that up and go start over somewhere.”
The 47-year-old Behrens says he’s thinking about pursuing a commercial trucking license. The plant’s closure not only leaves 1,500 people without a job, it has a big impact on other businesses in the tri-state region.
Shawn Corbett is general manager at Jim Hawk Truck Trailers, which services many of the trailers going in and out of John Morrell. “The biggest thing is you just don’t like seeing companies leave the community,” Corbett said. “It affects the community a lot deeper than just the employees who are getting laid off. It’s a ripple effect that affects everybody.”
That ripple effect extends to John Furhman’s farm, 50 miles northeast of Sioux City. He’ll now transport his hogs an extra 25 miles each way to the next closes plant owned by Smithfield Foods – which operated the John Morrell plant. Fuhrman says he’ll be stuck with the added price tag for gas.
“It’s one of those things where…I’m just a little man out here and trying to ask the big companies to compensate me for that…I’m fighting a losing battle,” Fuhrman said.
Sioux City economic development director Marty Dougherty says the effort to replace the John Morrell jobs will hopefully involve a mixture of businesses related to renewable energy and agriculture.
“I think we cope by diversifying, by looking to attract new industries and also perhaps to attract the same type of industry in a new generation of these facilities,” Dougherty said.