Earlier this month in Noel, Missouri — population 2,124 — Tyson Foods hosted a job fair for the 1,500 chicken plant workers it plans to lay off in two months.
David Handy, a union steward and pallet jack operator at the site, said he pushed through his Covid-19 symptoms to make the 4 p.m. start time. When he arrived, there was a single employer offering positions that Handy said would’ve required a 60-mile commute.
“Wasn’t nothing for me,” said Handy, who stayed five minutes before returning home and calling out sick for the job he has worked for five years.
The Noel plant, which Tyson acquired from defunct meat processor Hudson Foods in the 1990s, is one of six whose closures the company announced this year as it looks to shore up its business. While inflation has fallen, grocery prices remain high and meat sales have slowed industrywide, contributing to Tyson’s $417 million loss in the last quarter.
The U.S. economy has seen a recent spike in business investment, partly fueled by historic levels of federal spending on domestic manufacturing, including in rural areas. But it’s unclear whether that boom will come fast enough for the more than 4,600 Tyson plant workers being cut in Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas and Virginia this year and next — layoffs that highlight the sometimes risky entanglements between small communities and big industrial employers.