Tyson Foods to shutter Columbia plant, lay off workers

Tyson Foods will shut down its Columbia plant and layoff more than 200 employees as part of a cost-cutting move the company said was difficult but necessary.

Multiple media outlets reported that both the Bluff Road plant in Columbia and a similar operation in Jacksonville, Fla., will close in early January. The expected closure date is Jan. 8 for both facilities, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Friday.

Tyson confirmed its plans in an email Friday to The State. The company, headquartered in Arkansas, said it would try to help laid off workers find other jobs with the company.

“We are making the difficult decision to close two of our Case Ready Value-Added plants,’’ the Tyson statement said. “We understand the impact of this decision on our team members.

“We will make every effort to offer them opportunities to remain with the company at other locations and will partner with state and local officials to provide additional resources. With a focus on optimizing our operational footprint, we are reallocating resources to operate as efficiently as possible, while maintaining ample capacity to serve our customers.”

The Tyson plant in Columbia prepares meat for resale by retailers. Workers convert fresh beef and pork, brought in from other locations, into steaks, chops, roasts and ground beef, the company told The State in a 2021 email. The meat products are then placed in trays and shipped to retailers for sale in grocery store meat cases, the company said. Starting pay for production jobs was $16 per hour, the company said in 2021.

The announcement of the closures in South Carolina and Florida follows the shutdown of six other Tyson plants across the country this year, according to Meat + Poultry and the Democrat-Gazette, which said those plants employed more than 4,600 people. The company has faced back to back quarterly losses, the Arkansas newspaper reported.

Donnie King, Tyson’s chief executive and president, said in an earnings conference call this past August that “facilities that we are closing (are) typically smaller in scale and in need of major capital to make them viable.’’

The Columbia plant Tyson at 1970 Bluff Road has been in operation, off and on, since the late 1990s, when it was a meat-cooking plant for pork producer IBP. IBP was trying to open a hog slaughterhouse in South Carolina that some speculated would supply the plant. The slaughterhouse never opened.

Tyson Foods is a national meat production company
Tyson Foods is a national meat production company

The Bluff Road facility, later acquired by Tyson, closed in 2020, but Tyson announced in 2021 that it was investing more in the property and reopening the plant.

At the time, state and county leaders praised Tyson for reviving the facility. The company said it would invest $55 million in the Bluff Road plant over three to five years and create 330 jobs, including those lost from the 2020 shut down.

Gov. Henry McMaster’s office said in 2021 that the investment “will help continue South Carolina’s tremendous economic growth.’’ McMaster’s office was not immediately available for comment Friday afternoon.

Now that the plant is closing again, it’s possible the company would have to return government incentives it obtained, said an official familiar with the Tyson shut down.

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the matter, expressed optimism that other food processors would be interested in the facility.