March 1, 2013

COON RAPIDS - Syngenta, a Switzerland-based international agri-business Goliath, Thursday announced it would be closing its Coon Rapids seed corn production and supply facility effective Dec. 31, a move expected to cost 31 people their jobs in Coon Rapids.

This decision is not related to the other Syngenta Coon Rapids facility located at 615 Main St., which employs about 20 people in customer relations, company officials.

The company told employees of the imminent shuttering during a meeting at 7 a.m. Thursday in Coon Rapids.

Coon Rapids plant manager Dave Wiemers, 53, whose job is one of the those being cut, is quick to point out that other opportunities are available within the company's vast system, many of the positions in the rural Midwest. Syngenta posted more than $13 billion in sales in 2011 and employs about 26,000 people in 90 countries.

"It's just basically the age of the site," said Wiemers. "We're kind of landlocked here where it's hard to expand."

In Coon Rapids, the company is involved with corn supply from the planting of seed to the bagging of commercial product.

"We will have full production this year," said Wiemers, who talked with the Daily Times Herald as he was unloading trucks Thursday night.

Paul Minehart, head of North American corporate communications for Syngenta, said the company has developed a plan to address its growing commercial corn and soybean business in North America. This plan includes expansion of certain existing facilities, closure of some operations, as well as the construction of new seed production facilities to support a growing Syngenta seeds and crop protection chemistry business, he said.

Wiemers said the plan does not negatively affect jobs at the Syngenta facility in Jefferson.

Minehart said that after study and analysis, Syngenta has concluded that, due to the age and condition of Coon Rapids plant, it does not make economic sense to continue investing in the facility.

"This is a business decision and is not related to the plant's performance," Minehart said. "Syngenta leadership understands the personal impact that the shutdown can have on Coon Rapids colleagues, their families, and the surrounding community. That's why we are making this announcement now with nearly a year's notice so that employees have time to make plans for their future. The plant manager and staff in Coon Rapids have performed at a high level, and Syngenta leadership values the Coon Rapids' team for its knowledge, skills and experience."

He said Coon Rapids employees impacted by this announcement who remain at the facility until closure will receive a Syngenta severance package. Also career counseling and outplacement assistance will be provided.

"I guess we can count our blessings that we did get that kind of notice," said Wiemers who has worked in the business in Coon Rapids through the facilities' various incarnations, beginning with the Garst company.

Wiemers said he believed there were about 40 positions open in the company's corn-supply chain.

Growers who are connected with Syngenta are expected to be served by the company in Waterloo, Neb., or Lone Tree, Iowa, Wiemers said.

Syngenta is prepared to discuss with Coon Rapids community leaders possibilities for the site post-2013, including a beautification initiative. A March community meeting on that subject and others is being planned, Wiemers said.

Wiemers said it's possible another agricultural operation may be interested in the Coon Rapids facilities.

"For the right company there could be some opportunity here," Wiemers said.

He said the employees being displaced range in age from roughly 26 to 67.

"We've got a lot of people who are 30- to 35-year employees of the company," Wiemers said. "It's a heck of a workforce."

He added, "As I look back on my 30 years here, I wouldn't switch places with any other sites."

Carroll Area Development Corporation executive director Jim Gossett said his organization is poised to assist the displaced employees and Coon Rapids itself.

"We are saddened by the news that Syngenta is reducing workforce in Coon Rapids," Gossett said. "Coon Rapids is known worldwide for innovation and production in agriculture. These workers who do not move to another position in the company should be attractive to a number of employers in the area. CADC will work with company officials and the Iowa Workforce Development Carroll office to assist these workers in any way we can."