Chocolate Maker Thompson Brands To Consolidate California Operations in Meriden Retaining 100 Jobs and Creating 40 New Hires
Reprinted from Record-Journal
By Bill Yelenak, Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — Thompson Brands will stay on South Vine Street, company President Robert Leighton announced Friday morning, rather than leave the city, as was feared.
Officials of the 127-year-old candy company decided to shut down a California plant and move all business operations here, Leighton said.
Thompson executives had decided three months ago to consolidate operations in either Meriden or Fairfield, Calif. Low-interest loans from the city and state, an offer from the city to buy a piece of the company’s property, and a lower cost of doing business led the company to stay here. Thompson will add about 40 jobs to the more than 100 already at the South Vine Street plant. Leighton said he expects the consolidation to be completed by July.
“Some people in Connecticut are going to be glad to hear they’re not in the highest-cost state to produce. California is worse. We relocated out there for proximity to certain customers, but California is a very expensive place to do business,” Leighton said Friday afternoon. “Beyond that, we own this facility, we lease in California. That was a critical element to the decision.”
The California plant made mostly chocolate bars and hollow chocolate, Leighton said. Some of that equipment and all of those operations will be moved to the Meriden plant.
Leighton and other company officials told employees of the decision at 9:20 a.m. Friday. Evelyn Roman, who has worked for Thompson for 12 years and lived in the city for two decades, described the employees as “very, very happy.”
“Everybody clapped,” Roman said. “It was something good, something great, for all of us. This is like our second home. This is where we spend most of our time. We spend some Saturdays, some Sundays … We are so happy that we’re staying in Meriden.”
Nancy Colon, a floor supervisor, heard a couple hours before the rest of her colleagues and said it was difficult to keep the secret. But when officials told all the employees, people began to laugh and clap. It was “like a party,” she said.
The state Department of Economic and Community Development and the Community Development Agency teamed up to give the business a $500,000 low-interest loan. Thompson is expected to receive a similar loan from Meriden’s Manufacturing Assistance Program. The city has also agreed to buy a 6.5-acre parcel of land on South Vine Street from the company and preserve it as open space.
The city loan will work its way through the proper channels, according to Peggy Brennan, Meriden’s economic development director. “It seems it’s a very favorable loan,” she said.
“It’s just spectacular that we could keep them here in place and continue the long tradition of this company,” she added.
William H. Thompson founded the company in 1879. The business stayed in the Thompson family until 1967, when Knowlton White bought a majority share. Sons Jeffrey and Allan White inherited the business, but a private partnership bought the company in 1995.
Area leaders lauded Thompson’s decision to stay in the city. Mayor Mark D. Benigni called it “a huge relief for those employees who have worked for Thompson for many years” and state House Majority Leader Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, is looking forward to a “bright future for Thompson Brands in Meriden.”
“We had a meeting with the company up here. We made phone calls, we put pressure, we talked to people,” Donovan said. “It’s a great company. It’s been around for a lifetime, and we wanted to keep it here.”
Gov. M. Jodi Rell and U.S. Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-5, released statements Friday afternoon saying they were happy with the company’s decision to remain in Meriden.
“This is sweet news for Meriden and great news for Connecticut,” Rell said. “I will continue to repeat it: Under the Rell administration, Connecticut is open for business. I look forward to partnering with companies across the state to help them realize job growth similar to Thompson Brands.”
“This is terrific news for Connecticut workers,” Johnson said. “Thompson Brands and its workers are a Connecticut treasure, an institution in Meriden for the last 125 years. Their commitment to Connecticut will result in a stronger local economy and more jobs for workers in our state.”
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