Coca-Cola to shutter bottling plant in 2023; 319 to lose jobs

By BRIAN STEELE

Staff Writer

Published: 08-05-2021 7:34 PM

NORTHAMPTON — City and state officials are seeking more information from Coca-Cola after the beverage giant announced that it would close the bottling plant at 45 Industrial Drive in summer 2023, leaving its 319 employees to find new jobs.

“We’re really just trying to absorb and understand” the news, said Mayor David Narkewicz on Thursday. “This will be a significant economic loss for the city of Northampton.”

The plant is the city’s largest manufacturer, its largest water customer “by far” and one of its largest taxpayers, Narkewicz said. After a conference call with company representatives, Narkewicz said the closure is tied to a corporate restructuring plan that will also shut down a plant in California.

Full production is expected to continue through June 2023, according to the mayor’s recounting of the conference call, but an employee who spoke to the Gazette on condition of anonymity said that workers were told that manufacturing lines could be shut down in waves.

“There’s a lot of confusion amongst the employees. People are disgruntled,” said the employee. “At the lower end of the totem pole, there’s a lot of stress.”

The employee said that managers informed workers during a series of meetings, the first of which was held at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday. The employee said managers framed the decision in terms of finances as Coca-Cola tries to expand into new markets and use more sustainable packaging, which requires advanced machinery.

“I’m feeling kind of hopeless about finding work in western Massachusetts, which is my favorite place on Earth,” the employee said.

Coca-Cola directly owns 14 of the U.S. facilities that bottle its products, including the Northampton plant. The rest are owned by contractors such as Refresco, a Netherlands company that claims to be the largest independent beverage bottler in the world.

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Coca-Cola sold facilities in Michigan, Missouri and Texas to Refresco in a deal announced on Wednesday. The terms of the sale were not disclosed, and Coca-Cola said it is unrelated to the Northampton closure, although they were announced at the same time.

“After careful consideration, The Coca-Cola Company has decided to close our production facility in Northampton, Massachusetts,” the company, headquartered in Atlanta, said in a statement. “We did not make this decision lightly and are grateful to have had the opportunity to have been a part of the Northampton community.”

Workers “will be encouraged to apply and be considered for jobs that they are qualified to perform within the Coca-Cola system and at other third-party manufacturer locations,” the company said. “The facility is targeting closure in the second quarter of 2023, and we will support our associates throughout the challenging transition.”

Coca-Cola bought the former Mid-Atlantic Canners Association facility on Industrial Drive in 1995. The plant underwent a 13,000-square-foot expansion, completed in 2011, that cost $50 million and added 100 jobs. Today, the 470,000-square-foot Coca-Cola plant bottles non-carbonated products including Minute Maid, Vitaminwater, Powerade and Honest Tea.

“The city will certainly work with our partners to bring resources to people that are looking for new jobs,” Narkewicz said. “We’ll do everything we can to support that.”

State Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, said news of the closure is “both surprising and disappointing, particularly at a time when there has been so much focus on getting people back to work.

“I will be curious to hear why a company whose revenue grew 42% last year is closing a location that has long been an important part of the community, a community that has worked hard to accommodate their needs,” Sabadosa said.

The largest industrial site in the city, the Coca-Cola property is assessed at $17.7 million, according to city tax records, and the company pays about $306,000 in annual property taxes. Coca-Cola benefited from a 13-year agreement with the city — signed in March 2010 — that reduced its tax burden on the 2011 expansion by 50% for the first seven years, then 25% for the remainder.

That agreement, called a TIF, expires after June 2023. The city also spent $375,000 to increase capacity at the Bradford Street sewer pump station in response to Coca-Cola’s needs.

Narkewicz said he asked company officials to share details of the city’s assistance with corporate decision-makers.

“There were significant investments by the state and the city to keep them here and help them expand,” Narkewicz said. “Any time we can help a major employer expand and add jobs, that’s a good investment.”

Now, though, “Northampton is caught up in a larger model of corporate restructuring,” he said.

Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, said he would “pledge to work with Mayor Narkewicz … to see if any decisions can be undone.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com]]>