Packages of Tyson Foods products.
Packages of Tyson Foods products. Reuters

In the United States, the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the word "Tyson" is the image of the famous boxer (Mike) or the meat products of the Tyson Foods brand, which produces almost one-fifth of all the meat consumed in the country and can be found on the shelves of almost every supermarket and grocery store.

Tyson Foods, the meat processor with a revenue of more than $53 billion, is in the news because its owners are closing several of its plants throughout the country. This time it was the plant in the small town of Noel, Missouri, a charming community located at the crossroads of four states: Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

The plant processed chicken and was the destination for the large trucks that arrived with the poultry and left with packaged product for distribution to supermarkets in many states of the country. The facility employed 1,500 people from Noel and other towns, most of them from local Latino communities.

As the final closing date for the last days of October approaches, workers have begun to leave town.

"It's normal to see people leaving with their stuff, looking for another destination, leaving the houses empty," Margarita Barrientos, a Mexican immigrant told The Latin Times. Barrientos, an entrepreneur, came to Noel four years ago after emigrating from Matamoros, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, in 2001. "I have a food truck and I have seen many fellow immigrants walking down the street who, after working in the plant for 20 years, are now looking for other places to live."

In fact, Noel has been experiencing a population loss. In 2022, the city saw a decline of 8.43% against the previous year. Before Tyson Foods decided to close its plant, the city, with a population of less than 1,900, was performing better in terms of jobs with an unemployment rate of 3.8%, versus a US average of 6.0%.

The closure of the plant is a serious blow to the economy of Noel, not only for the workers directly affected but also for other links in the production chain in the area. Farmers, truckers, restaurants, and local businesses are seriously affected, not to mention the impact on the community budget. The high cost of inputs is the reason cited by the owners, who plan to close five other plants in other states.

Closures elsewhere

Tyson Foods is not the only company closing plants. Poultry company, Perdue Farms, announced in August that it was closing a meatpacking plant in Michigan that employed 130 people, and pork giant Smithfield Foods closed a California plant that employed 1,800 people this year. Pork company HyLife closed a 1,000-employee pork plant in Minnesota in June. Company Olymel said last month it plans to close two plants, affecting about 400 jobs.

The economic impact of these closures will be felt not only in the communities where they are located, but across the country because of their impact on the supply chain.

Tyson has estimated its economic impact in the communities where it operates at more than $27 billion annually, according to testimony its CEO gave to lawmakers last year. The company estimated that its newest poultry plant, which will open in Humboldt, Tenn. in 2021, will generate $150 million annually for the state between payroll, payments to farmers and purchases of grain and utilities.

Mitigation plans and... kayaks

Tyson said it is working with other businesses in the community to help workers find new jobs. The company said it is offering bonuses and up to $5,000 for moving expenses to workers who relocate to another of its plants. Some 250 Noel workers are opting to move to other facilities and other 500 have expressed interest in relocating, according to a Tyson spokesperson.

Feliberto Enrique Barrientos, Margarita's husband, told The Latin Times that other businesses will be established on the plant site to replace the lost jobs. "The city council is discussing several options, and one of them is to build a shipyard to make kayaks," he said.

"Noel's economy has another crucial element which is the River Ranch resort that attracts tourists from the four adjacent states who come to practice kayaking," Margarita said.

"They have another hotel and generate jobs for the local Latino community," she added. "In my case, I don't plan to leave town or close La Catrina Mexican Flavor," said Margarita, referring to her business. "I have many customers who come to the Shadow Lake nightclub and after
having fun they come to buy quesabirrias, tacos and all the delicacies of our food.

"Even Indians and Sudanese, who are not supposed to eat meat, come to eat chicken tacos and rice," Margarita points out proudly.

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