House of Raeford scraps turkey operation, 950 jobs
Posted August 1, 2013
Raeford, N.C. — The House of Raeford Farms shuttered its turkey slaughter plant Thursday, putting 950 employees out of work in a region where unemployment is above the national average.
The closing had been anticipated since March, when the company announced it would scale back turkey production because of declining consumer demand.
But workers, many who have been with the company for more than 20 years, said the advance notice didn’t make the day any easier. The unemployment rate in Hoke County was 9.2 percent in June.
“It was kind of sad a little bit,” said John Wilson, who drove his last truckload of live turkeys Thursday. “I’m going to be out of a job in the morning.”
Wilson, 49, worked at House of Raeford for 10 years and said he never thought the plant would close.
“This is probably about the most popular job around here,” he said.
The plant has been in operation since the 1950s, becoming part of the House of Raeford in 1975. Bob Johnson, chief executive officer and son of founder Marvin Johnson, said in a statement that his father was an innovator who saw turkeys could sell year-round and not just during holidays.
But a decreasing appetite for the big birds, combined with higher feed prices, fueled the company’s decision to drop turkey processing and focus on expanding its fully cooked turkey and chicken product lines. The company is ranked among the top 10 chicken producers in the country.
“Because our entire family has been involved in growing turkeys for so many years, leaving the commodity turkey business was one of the most difficult decisions we ever made,” Johnson said.
He said knowing the number of employees who would be out of work made the decision “even harder.” The company is offering severance packages and a job fair to help workers find employment or retraining.
Nikkitia Blue, 25, had a year at the plant.
“But I hate that it’s closing,” she said. “This is a good job, and the people that’s supplying these jobs are good people.”
Some workers are trying to transfer to House of Raeford’s nearby cook plant, which will remain open and employs 400.
“Hopefully, I’ll get another (job) down there,” said Thomas Bethea, 33.
Franklin Carthens, 66, worked at the plant for 46 years. He said it’s hard to imagine life in Raeford without it.
“It’s done a lot for me,” he said. “I’m going to miss that job because it’s an easy job and a good living.”
Nearby businesses also will be affected the plant’s closing. Bo’s Food Mart, a few blocks away, gets 200 turkey workers a week for lunch.
“I know most of them by name,” said manager Richard Cook. “It’s going to be heavily felt here.”