Mayor John Paterson finally had a good night’s sleep since learning in November Heinz would close its Leamington plant in June, throwing about 740 people out of work.
Armed with a news release just received from Heinz world headquarters, Paterson announced Thursday morning a letter of intent had been signed between Heinz and a Canadian company, Highbury Canco Corporation (HCC).
While the mayor had no details about the number of jobs or products the plant may retain, Paterson said it was "a great day for Leamington.
"I think it really tells us Heinz still wants to work in our municipality," Paterson said.
HCC is one of several companies who expressed an interest in the 105-year-old facility.
Paterson said he was not familiar with the company, but expects to receive more details in two to three weeks as Heinz and HCC iron out details including products and workforce.
A spokesperson for HCC told QMI Agency "Under terms of the letter of intent, HCC would assume responsibility for the Heinz Leamington site and transition to manufacturing, co-packing and distribution of certain products in early July. HCC intends to employ approximately 250 employees, plus additional seasonal employees."
Sam Diab, HCC member and the current factory manager at the Leamington facility, added "HCC’s growth plan, including subsequent investment in the Leamington site, would provide additional employment opportunities in the future."
Heinz senior vice-president of corporate and government affairs, Michael Mullen, stated in a news release the letter of intent is an expression of "a testament to the hard-working town of Leamington."
Mullen described HCC as "a strong new partner for the community and for Heinz."
Pradeep Sood, spokesperson for HCC stated "The Leamington plant has an excellent workforce and Ontario’s farmers are amongst the best in the world."
"Our investment will be the cornerstone to providing Ontario agricultural products around the world, not just in Canada," Sood added.
Paterson said the timing is crucial for tomato growers who need to start planning for the upcoming season.
"The farmers have to know right away … I think Heinz looked at this and said ‘We’ve hurt the town enough when we announced the closure. We don’t want them hurt again. We want to get some of the facts out there," Paterson said.
The mayor added until a deal is done, higher levels of government can’t make any financial commitments, "but they have been talking with these companies, with us, so they are ready to move ahead when the final contract is signed," Paterson said.
Dave Van Kesteren, Chatham-Kent—Essex MP, stated "The (federal) government will continue to work with the community to explore ways we can assist this company moving forward."
Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment stated in a new release, "I want to congratulate Heinz and Canco for their decision to reinvest in the Leamington facility … It is a testament to the world-class agri-food industry in Leamington and the workers, families, businesses and leadership that support it."
David Campbell, president of the Leamington Chamber of Commerce, was pleased by the announcement.
"It’s great we can now assure our members … now that we know there is some stability I think it’s going to help everything to settle down in the town of Leamington," Campbell said.
Campbell also talked about what the last three months have been like for friends working at Heinz
"It was fear, it was uncertainty, the roller-coaster ride those people were going through is unbelievable. Now they can go back perhaps to some reality," he added.
"At least it’s a start … and smaller businesses will know there is a chance they can stay open," Campbell said.
Businesses employing five to 10 people have been on red alert, he said.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union remains optimistic about the letter of intent between Canco and Heinz to produce food products at the long-standing Leamington facility.
"We welcome the prospect of good jobs being maintained at the plant, which has served as the keystone of Leamington’s economy for generations," said Robert Crawford, UFCW Canada Local 459 president.
Crawford added he was encouraged by Canco’s stated commitment to respecting collective bargaining rights and was looking forward to building a productive relationship with the new ownership."