Farewell, Elsie

Historic South Street Borden plant closing
by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff


THE 60-PLUS YEAR-OLD Borden cheese plant on South Street will be closing after the first of next year, it was announced Friday by Dairy Farmers of America, owners and operators of the plant. The closing of the plant, built in 1954, will leave more than 300 employees out of work. — Review photo by Emmitt B. Feldner THE 60-PLUS YEAR-OLD Borden cheese plant on South Street will be closing after the first of next year, it was announced Friday by Dairy Farmers of America, owners and operators of the plant. The closing of the plant, built in 1954, will leave more than 300 employees out of work. — Review photo by Emmitt B. Feldner PLYMOUTH – The last operating cheese plant in the city’s historic Cheeseville district will go silent after the first of the year.

Dairy Farmers of America announced Friday that it will be closing its plant on South Street in January, putting more than 300 employees out of work.

DFA officials blamed outdated infrastructure and technology for the decision to close the plant.

“Unfortunately, despite numerous upgrades to this facility, it has become increasingly difficult for us to remain competitive in today’s marketplace,” DFAS Chief Operating Officer for Consumer Brands John Stephens said in a press release announcing the closing.

The announcement comes just over four years after the company made a $13.4 million upgrade and expansion of the plant, built in 1954.

That project was financed in part by a $750,000 grant from the city of Plymouth’s tax incremental district 5, along with a matching $750,000 grant from the state of Wisconsin Department of Commerce.

Part of DFA’s agreement, signed in August 2011, with the city for the TIF grant was a pledge to keep the plant open and the 357 jobs it then represented in Plymouth for five years.

“This is very disappointing, but we’re still the Cheese Capital of the World,” Plymouth City Administrator Brian Yerges said Friday after the news was announced.

Noting the county’s low 3.4 percent unemployment rate, Yerges expressed optimism that the laid-off workers can be absorbed into the county’s workforce.

He pointed to the remaining cheese companies remaining in the city – Sargento, Sartori, Masters Gallery and Great Lakes Cheese – as well as the various businesses supporting the cheese industry. “All of those companies have job openings,” Yerges said.

“Business decisions that impact the lives of our employees are incredibly difficult,” Stephens said in the press release. “This closure in no way is a reflection of our dedicated employees, who have done excellent work here. We appreciate the dedication of our employees here and will be working to help them through this transition.

The company pledged to assist workers – many of them longterm employees at the plant – in finding new employment. DFA will be working with Wisconsin Rapid Response to identify local employment opportunities and may set up a job fair for laid-off workers.

Company officials are expected to meet with employees at the Plymouth plant sometime in the next two weeks to provide further details on the plant closing.

DFA also said it will be utilizing a third-party manufacturer to make the Borden Cheese products now made in Plymouth after the plant here closes.

While the Borden plant was not within the city’s TIF 5 boundaries, it was the beneficiary of funds from the district for its 2011 upgrade.

“There is some call-back language,” in the developer’s agreement with the city and the state for that project, Yerges said of the city’s $750,000 TIF investment at the plant.

“We are going to have to review that with our legal counsel and see how that plays out,” he concluded.

The 401,600-square foot plant was originally built by Borden in 1954 and was acquired by DFA in 1997. It produces 300 million pounds of natural and processed cheese in shreds, chunks, snack cheeses and slices annually.

It was the last plant built in the area between South and Appleton streets on what was then the southern edge of the city in an area that was known as Cheeseville.

Borden’s presence in Plymouth dates back to 1929, when Borden Co. purchased Lakeshire-Marty Cheese Co.

The area, with smaller and older facilities, was supplanted over the past half century by larger modern plants built by newer companies on the city’s northwest and south sides.


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Edward Jones