DAWSON -- Associated Milk Producers Inc. will be closing its manufacturing facility in Dawson by the end of the year, workers there were informed Friday.
The plant currently employs 130 workers in manufacturing, administrative, maintenance, laboratory and wastewater treatment positions.
The Dawson facility produces cheese sauces and puddings, and until recently, lesser quantities of consumer packaged, block cheddar cheese.
The closing is the result of a recently announced sale of AMPI's aseptic or shelf-stable dairy products line to Bay Valley Foods of Oak Brook, Ill., according to Sarah Schmidt, communications director for AMPI in New Ulm.
AMPI intends to focus its attention on its core products, including consumer packaged cheese, butter and dried dairy products, according to Schmidt. She said the Dawson facility was the only plant among AMPI's network of 11 manufacturing facilities that produced aseptic or shelf-stable cheese sauces and puddings.
The closing of the Dawson plant came as a shock to its employees. While the plant's cheese production had been halted earlier, the aseptic line has been running at full speed and workers believed it was profitable.
Workers will be meeting individually with company representatives in the days ahead and learning their options. Most are still uncertain about what to do, according to Doug Haugen, a wastewater operator who has been with the Dawson facility for 23 years.
"It's a double-whammy for us,'' said Haugen. His wife, Sue, works in the plant's laboratory. She has been with the plant for 25 years.
The plant has many employees with 20 or more years, Haugen said.
Bay Valley Foods looked at continuing operations in Dawson. It decided against it due to its distance from Illinois, where its only other cheese sauce and pudding plant is located, according to Schmidt. Bay Valley Foods produces a wide range of private-label food items at a variety of plants, with products ranging from pickles to salsa.
The closing of the Dawson facility will not adversely affect AMPI milk producers providing milk to it. The members' milk will be hauled to other AMPI plants, said Schmidt.
The nearest AMPI plants are in Paynesville, Freeman, S.D., and Sanborn, Iowa.
Viessman Trucking of Gary, S.D., will continue to haul the milk produced by AMPI members producing for the Dawson plant. "Basically they will just change which direction they will be driving,'' said Schmidt.
Workers at the Dawson plant will be offered opportunities for job openings at other AMPI facilities, she said.
The company will also work with the city of Dawson and Lac qui Parle County to market the 200,000-square-foot facility.
Dave Bovee, city manager in Dawson, said news of the plant's closing has been difficult for the community of 1,540. The community is optimistic that a new buyer can be found for the facility and that many of its workers can remain in the community and area.
AMPI purchased the Dawson plant in November 1982 when it closed a facility in Clarkfield. It has been a good corporate citizen and community supporter through all of its 30 years in Dawson, Bovee said.
Pam Lehman, director of the Lac qui Parle Economic Development Agency, said officials with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development are working with the city and county to market the plant, and are also optimistic.
Officials with Bay Valley Foods will be touring the plant in upcoming weeks and deciding what equipment may be moved from it.
Scmidit said AMPI is committed to working with Dawson and Lac qui Parle County to market the plant. "We certainly want to work with them,'' she said. "Ideally (we can) find a buyer for this plant and hopefully create some job opportunities in that area.''