Mars Petcare has confirmed its Whanganui factory, which employs 140 staff, will close on December 18.
In September 2019 the American-owned family company announced it intended to move production of cat food pouches from the Castlecliff factory to a facility in Thailand, and said it was going through a consultation process with staff. Then in November last year it said the factory would close at the end of 2020, ending 27 years of manufacturing in Whanganui, but no firm date was given.
It said the move would save US$10.8 million ($15.8m) a year, and the Thailand factory would have five times the volume capacity of the Whanganui facility and be able to supply pouch products to the entire Asia Pacific region, including New Zealand.
Now Mars Petcare has advised its 140 Whanganui employees, also referred to as associates, that the final day of operations at the Whanganui site would be Friday, December 18, a spokesperson said.
They said Mars Petcare appreciated "the outstanding commitment and resilience" of Whanganui employees during challenging times and that since the initial closure announcement the company had supported staff with their next career steps.
This included providing industry qualifications, upskilling to meet local demand and "outplacement" assistance. It would give employees ongoing support in the lead-up to the closure.
"Our associates are valued throughout Whanganui and beyond for their level of technical skills, high safety standards and leadership capability," Mars Petcare supply transformation lead Dan Pope said.
"We're really gratified by the way the business community has rallied around us to identify new job opportunities, and we are continuing to work closely with local stakeholders to find the best outcomes for our associates and for Whanganui."
Economic development agency Whanganui & Partners has been working with Mars since the closure announcement to develop a programme to transition staff into new opportunities in Whanganui, Hannah Kelly of Whanganui & Partners said.
"The first stage of that was to co-ordinate with UCOL to run sessions connecting the Mars staff to local opportunities around further education and retraining," Kelly said.
"The next stage was to run an Employment Expo, where we brought together a range of businesses within the region that are all currently hiring. The expo allowed the Mars staff to meet the employers, talk about their skill sets, share their CVs and in some cases directly apply for work.
"The businesses involved were incredibly impressed with the Mars staff, and we look forward to hearing about positive employment outcomes from this event."
The Whanganui Chamber of Commerce is hosting a manufacturing tour of the Mars factory on Thursday, November 19, chamber director Joamari van der Walt said.
"Chamber members will be able to see first-hand how the company operates and those in the recruitment market can explore the available skills the Mars Whanganui employees have to offer," van der Walt said.
"The well-presented expo held by Whanganui & Partners offered an opportunity for skilled workers to connect with local businesses, education providers and employment brokers.
"Both these events help facilitate the connection between the skilled workers and their future opportunities. The chamber is able to support these employees further by referring and connecting them to our local businesses and members in the recruitment industry."
The property at 49 Bryce St, Castlecliff is listed for sale with Bayleys Whanganui and expressions of interest closed on November 5. Due to commercial confidentiality, Bayleys Whanganui managing director John Bartley was unable to comment at this stage in the process.
Whanganui & Partners has been supporting the Bayleys team to find a buyer for the premises, with business growth adviser Tim Easton working on business attraction.
"Industrial land is in high demand around New Zealand, and the Mars factory is an attractive opportunity for businesses looking to expand or move to Whanganui," Easton said.
"We've been in communication with out-of-town prospects around the broader benefits of bringing their business to Whanganui. For instance, we had discussions with businesses about local economic data, staffing needs and consenting processes through the council as well as what it's like to live here."
Manufacturing and Construction Workers Union general secretary George Larkins said ground rules around the closure had been put in place during the bargaining process last year and earlier this year.
"Members are getting help with training and qualifications that make them more attractive on the job market, and getting help with CVs and that sort of stuff, counselling and everything," Larkins said.
"I guess we've left no stone unturned.
"In terms of leaving early, once they're given the redundancy notice they'll be able to leave early if they find other employment without losing entitlements. In addition to that, we negotiated another outcome for members that meant if they left early to go to a job they got a payment that was different to what they got under redundancy but a significant amount nevertheless.
"They [Mars] have done the right thing by their staff. From a union perspective it's really disappointing to lose employers that you can work with towards establishing really good terms and conditions for members, so it's not just the loss of income and money to the region and employment, it's the loss of a really good employer.
"It's sad that members are losing their jobs and we just have to try and look forward to other opportunities."