NEWPORT, Tenn. — The production part of the ConAgra food plant in Newport is now closed and the warehouse is set to close in the spring. In total 400 people are set to lose their jobs which included 215 people on Friday.
ConAgra was Cocke County’s largest employer. Tennessee State Representative Jeremy Faison said state and local leaders are working to find another food company to fill ConAgra's place.
"We have some interested buyers who are looking, and so there is a good chance that something will happen in the next year," he said. "It's an incredibly sad day for this area of Tennessee and specifically for Cocke County.”
Hundreds of employees at the century-old facility packed their things and left the plant early Friday morning. Originally, the company was expected to close in January 2021. However, they said a surge in consumer demand helped them stay open for longer.
"There's nothing good about it. The State of Tennessee got involved, we did everything we could. We offered some good incentive but ConAgra just decided this wasn't worth investment right now," Faison said.
The food plant has been in the area for more than 120 years. It started in 1898 and it has employed members of the community throughout the decades.
"I had about seven family members that worked there and all kinds of friends," said Benny Wilson, who lives in Newport. "I feel bad for them, I swear I do.”
ConAgra has been a staple of Cocke County. The people who live here say it's tough to see it go.
"I hate to see that happen to the people around here. This is a really nice area," said Luann Hatcher, who also lives in Newport.
The full closure affects 1-in-20 people in Newport. Many are looking for help filing for unemployment benefits.
"It's just easier for anybody that's struggling with unemployment in this area especially that's just left here. I just want them to call my office. We're going to get them directly in line with a live person at the unemployment office in Tennessee," Faison said.
Faison said that anyone who needs help filing for unemployment benefits can call his office at (615) 741-6871.
Production from the Newport facility will transition to other plants within the Conagra network.