Catfish processor makes tough business decision

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 20, 2007

If a silver lining exists in the announcement that Southern Pride Catfish is closing their Demopolis processing plant, it is that approximately 120 hourly-wage workers will be able to keep their jobs by moving to a Greensboro location.

The company seems to be doing what they can for these employees. They are even offering transportation from Demopolis to Greensboro. In addition, management with Southern Pride said they will guarantee employees their same rate of pay and at least 40 hours per week at the new location.

That said, job losses will be heavy. David Bleth, general manager of Southern Pride Catfish, said approximately 150 contract employees and up to 24 salaried employees will lose their jobs as of March 31.

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This will affect hundreds of families throughout our immediate area. For some, the loss of this income will mean the very real prospect of not being able to pay their rent or mortgage or possibly even having enough money for groceries.

To the community as a whole, we are losing a good corporate partner in Southern Pride. Their decision will adversely affect the local economy, at least in the short-term.

Of course, their decision was one based on business factors, and for that we cannot blame them. The catfish industry has struggled in recent years. Four and five years ago, catfish farmers took a beating when the price of catfish fell to record lows. Now, with prices rebounding, the processors are facing hard times.

Both farmers and processors also face increased competition from a global economy, with catfish ponds in foreign countries producing the same product at a much lower rate and often with inferior quality. Furthermore, foreign competition from seafood products such as tilapia and shrimp have also undermined the catfish industry.

Our Congressional leaders should heed what is happening here as yet another warning of the downside of our increasingly global economy. While we believe free trade and globalism have an overall beneficial impact on the U.S. economy, safeguards must be erected to protect our farmers and laborers &8212; the ones who are suffering most.

And finally, while we commend Southern Pride for doing what they can for whom they can, we must remember those who will be jobless in the coming weeks. Now more than ever, it is imperative that we focus on recruiting new business to the area and helping to foster an economic environment that provides for expansion of existing industry.

The City of Demopolis and the people who will be adversely affected by this layoff will prevail over time. As for the immediate future, we need to be mindful of their needs.