Newport locals share reactions to Conagra plant closing

Almost 215 people are without a job in Cocke Co. after major employer Conagra brands shut down production for the last time.

The food plant has been around since the early 1900s and many living in Newport are sad to see it go.

When it comes to the closing of the Newport facility, Conagra said it needed to cut costs.

“The decision to close the Newport facility was based on our need to operate as efficiently and effectively as possible across our full network of production facilities,” the food plant released in a statement.

Conagra officials said their products will now be made primarily in Ohio and Iowa.

Working the Conagra plant for 31 years, Tom Messer said he’s sad to see it go.

“I’d heard rumors about them wanting to shut down for a decade now and I worried a lot about it throughout the years, but I didn’t think they would, and then when I got the news it was heartbreaking,” said Messer.

For now, Tom is working at the Conagra Warehouse until it closes late winter or early spring.

“I hate they’re leaving but I do appreciate them, and I appreciate the job I had, and I’d like to be the last one out of there. The last Conagra out,” shared Messer.

Former worker Jessie Green said he worked at the plant for 30 years, and clocked out for the last time on Friday. Aside from the plant being a staple within the Newport community, he said it has provided careers for generations in his family.

“My whole family has worked there at one time, either part time or seasonal or full time. My dad worked there, my mom, and all my brothers. Me and my brothers were the last ones. He left when I did, and his wife worked there,” said Green.

When asked if the plant closing will impact the rates of customers in the area, a spokesperson with Newport Utility said they did a rate adjustment earlier this year as Conagra began reducing operations and changed some operating procedures to save money.

The Utility company also shared this statement: Newport Utilities began to adjust operations as rumors of ConAgra’s departure first started to circulate. While we foresee no further immediate impact to ratepayers, losing an industry for which our wastewater treatment facility was developed certainly is difficult. Newport Utilities’ staff continues to look into new opportunities to benefit our system and the communities we serve.

As for what moves in, or when, many living in Cocke Co. said they’re hoping it’s another large plant of some sort.

Source: WVLT, by Erica Lunsford

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Published October 26, 2021