One of Vernon's last slaughtering plants will close its operations, laying off more than 350 workers.
After 40 years in the industrial city, Shamrock Beef Processors, will shut down by Dec. 5 and 201 employees will lose their jobs. A sister company, Emerald Meat Co., will close operations in the same plant as well and lay off 159 employees by Dec. 23, according to the California Employment Development Department.
Both companies are part of Imperial Beef LLC, an entity that has done business as Nippon Foods Inc. and Champion Packers, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Vernon plant is the company's only plant.
Fred Stein, chief executive of Shamrock Beef Processors, said both companies had to close after land costs got too high to maintain profitability.
"If you want to expand and buy another piece of property, it's very expensive," Stein said. "[Our competitors] are in remote areas. They're around the country where land is cheap and availability of livestock is much easier to get."
A half century ago, Vernon was home to as many as 50 slaughter plants, according to Rosemary Mucklow, executive director of the National Meat Association in Oakland. Being close to the customer was necessary because meat has such a short shelf life.
But in the 1970s, the technology to vacuum-seal bags of meat and create boxed beef reduced the need for many slaughterhouses to be located in urban areas. Most of the slaughterhouses are now in rural areas of Kansas, Nebraska and Texas, Mucklow said.
Shamrock Beef Processors is privately owned by a number of cattle feeders in the Imperial Valley, Stein said.
Its closing represents the end of an era for Vernon, which long has been a meat processing town. Most of the food companies now in Vernon are pig-processing businesses, like Farmer John Meats, or processed, boxed meat or packaging companies.
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