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Published: Saturday, 11/3/2001

Food firm plans to save 125 jobs at Toledo plants

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The leader of a Minneapolis company buying two General Mills plants in Toledo said yesterday that his firm will keep 125 jobs at the cake-mix operation and call back 125 laid-off cereal plant workers within a year.

While that still will leave 335 cereal factory employees out of work, the chief executive of International Multifoods Corp. told Toledo workers and residents there is a strong possibility that more work could be added to the Laskey Road site.

“This will become the centerpiece of manufacturing and distribution operations of our company,” said Gary E. Costley, Multifoods' chairman and chief executive officer.

His upbeat assessment, including calling the plant “a crown jewel” for his company, is good news for local workers and political leaders who were saddened by last week's announcement by General Mills that the cereal plant would close next year, costing 460 workers their jobs that pay more than $20 an hour.

Mr. Costley and other Multifoods executives were in Toledo at the request of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D, Toledo). They inspected the Laskey Road plant, spoke to workers, and met with Miss Kaptur and state and local economic development officials who want the company to expand.

General Mills said it would close the plant that makes Cheerios and other cereal and sell it and the adjacent bake-mix factory to obtain Federal Trade Commission approval of its purchase of the Pillsbury Co. from Diageo Plc. The trade commission, which did not publicly ask for such divestiture, deadlocked on the Pillsbury deal last week, clearing the way for its completion. General Mills said it did not want to operate a cereal plant next door to a competitor.

Multifoods plans to add a ready-to-serve frosting line to the dessert-mix plant and use the cereal factory as a warehouse and for distribution. Mr. Costley said it will keep the workers at the bake-mix factory and hire its extra workers within the next year from the cereal plant workers, who are to begin losing their jobs in April.

The Multifoods chief said about half of the new product lines it is buying will be made in Toledo, but the others are made by suppliers and he will consider moving some of that production to Toledo, which could add jobs.

``Where there's an opportunity to consolidate, we will certainly do so,'' he said.

Joe Goodell, president of Local 58G, Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, which represents workers at the local plants, said he is negotiating severance packages with General Mills and is unsure how many laid off workers will remain in Toledo to be hired by Multifoods.

Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority president Jim Hartung, who met with Multifood officials yesterday, is to coordinate the efforts to promote more work at the factories. Under the sales agreement, General Mills is to invest $50 million in the production lines at the dessert factory.

Miss Kaptur said she spoke with Stephen Sanger, chairman of General Mills, and urged him to reconsider closing the cereal factory in Toledo. But the company has announced no such reversal.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Taft said he met with officials from the grain millers union and offered to “help” as well as to make state incentives available to Multifoods to encourage expansion in Toledo.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R, Ohio) participated in talks to discuss ways to provide more assistance to the laid-off workers.



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