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Huntington ice cream plant closing

140 jobs lost; company cites excess of production capacity

Ice cream probably will have a bitter taste during today’s Huntington Heritage Days celebration.

That’s because the company donating treats announced Friday it is closing its Good Humor-Breyers factory by the end of July – costing 140 people their jobs.

This month, Englewood, Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever said it was mulling making the decision because the company has too much manufacturing capacity. Production would be moved to other Unilever ice cream sites in the U.S. The company did inform Huntington’s government leaders about its plans.

Mayor Brooks Fetters said Unilever didn’t ask for incentives to stay in Huntington. Still, Fetters said he was willing to work something out to keep the company in the city of about 17,500.

“It’s just a sad day for Huntington to see a business that has been around for more than 100 years leave town,” Fetters said, adding that while the business has had several owners it has always operated as an ice cream factory in some form. “People have raised families working there.”

Unilever didn’t respond outside of a brief email Friday.

Union President David Altman said he worked to get his members on preferred hiring lists at other plants, but it appears doubtful. The workers, who are represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union Local 835, will receive severance packages.

Workers averaged 16 years on the job, Altman said. Many made a little more than $20 an hour, he said.

“It’s tough,” Altman said. “We had an inkling which way it was going to go based on what we were hearing.”

Mark Wickersham, executive director of Huntington County Economic Development, said officials worked with Unilever on some type of compromise, but the company insisted that it needed to shed $11 million in operating costs.

“Closing the plant was a way to do it,” he said. “There was no realistic incentive package we could put together. We feel badly, but Huntington is a vibrant, resilient community.”

Jennifer Winkeljohn is division director for Robert Half International in Fort Wayne, a specialized staffing agency. She said Allen County has a tremendous need for the type of workers Good Humor-Breyers possessed.

“I really believe that a number of these jobs can be absorbed,” she said.

About four years ago, Good Humor-Breyers invested $6 million to modernize equipment in the plant at 435 W. State St.

Unilever touts itself as one of the world’s leading suppliers of food, home and personal care products with sales in more than 190 countries. Its portfolio includes Ben & Jerry’s, Bertolli, Breyers, Country Crock, Dove personal care products, Hellmann’s, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! and Klondike.

The company employs more than 10,000 people in the United States and listed more than $9 billion in sales in 2012.