TORRINGTON — After years of ballyhoo and rumor, it’s finally going to happen — for the first time since 1923, sugar beets will no longer be processed in Goshen County.
According to Western Sugar Cooperative President and CEO Rodney Perry, the current processing campaign will be the last for the Torrington facility, which has been in operation for 95 years.
“It is our plan that this will be the last campaign that we will process sugar beets there,” Perry said. “We will still store sugar there from other sites and other locations. We will bring it in there and store it, pack it and ship sugar out of there. We will maintain the operation and some of the people.”
Previous Telegram stories stated the storing and packing facility will employ between 20 and 30 full-time employees, and the shutdown of the processing line resulted in the loss of 60-70 full-time employees and around 200 seasonal employees. Most recently, Western Sugar announced 92 employees would be permanently laid off in a letter to Torrington Mayor Mike Varney, the Wyoming Workforce Center and the Wyoming Department of Labor.
During the Torrington City Council meeting on Nov. 20, Varney said he expects the factory to be shut down and was highly critical of Western Sugar.
“I don’t know what is going to come out of it,” Varney said at the meeting.“We’ll see. It hasn’t been a real good situation in the last four or five years.”
According to Perry, the upcoming lay off of 92 workers, which will take place in mid-January, is part of the same plan the co-op announced two years ago to gradually shut down sugar production at the Torrington facility.
“This is something that we originally announced back in September of 2016,” Perry said. “We did a press release on it, so I guess I’m a little surprised. We’ve made press releases and been open about it for over two years.”
Perry said the decision to end sugar processing in Torrington was due to the company making technological upgrades in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and in Fort Morgan, Colorado.
“As we announced in September 2016, we would be investing in newer technologies and expanding our Scottsbluff facility and our Fort Morgan facility,” he said. “At that time, we said it would be over the next 24 months, then with that going effort and doing those projects, we would be reducing our activities and workforce in Torrington.
“The plan hasn’t changed,” Perry said. “It’s the same.”
Varney said the company hasn’t invested in the Torrington facility, and if it did the Torrington facility would still be viable.
“For a while, it did the job for Western,” Varney said. “It still would do the job, but they haven’t put any money in it and with all of the money they spend on those two factories, I’ve got a hunch it came back to haunt them.”
As the processing operation winds down in Torrington, Perry said affected employees who want to still be involved in the industry should keep an eye on the job boards for Western Sugar’s other facilities.
“We’re looking forward to those individuals applying at our other facilities,” Perry said. “We regularly have opening in Scottsbluff as well as our other locations, and we look forward to those individuals applying at our other locations. Having sugar beet experience is a plus, so we look forward to those individuals applying for openings at the other sites.”
According to Perry, local producers should not be impacted by the reduction of the Torrington facility.
“It really doesn’t affect them,” he said. “They’re still part of the cooperative, and we’re still going to store sugar beets there and deliver them over to Scottsbluff to be processed. It’s not going to have a major effect on the producers at this point.”