Dean’s closes its doors in Evart
EVART — Following the end to a long-standing relationship with Meijer Inc. and the city of Evart, the Dean Foods dairy facility permanently closed its doors on May10.
Dean Foods dairy has been an Evart business for generations. In 1928, it became Liberty Dairy, and in 2001 the operation was purchased by Dallas-based company Suiza Dairy, but retained its name. A milk contract with Meijer Inc. supplied 90 percent of Dean’s business.
Then, in 2012, Meijer announced its purchase of a dairy facility in Holland, and it became the owner April 1. Meijer plans to sell the Purple Cow Creamery Brand milk in its stores in the upcoming months.
“The creation of the Purple Cow Creamery is an important step forward as we continue to expand our manufacturing operations,” Rick Keyes, said executive vice president of supply chain and manufacturing for Meijer Inc., in March. “Producing our own Meijer brand milk allows us to continue to focus on keeping prices low for our customers, while also reducing the number of food miles for a very important product.”
In July 2012, 45 jobs at Dean Foods were eliminated. In August, the company announced the elimination of more jobs and the end of the facility’s operations. On May 10, the dairy closed for good.
“It’s devastating, especially to the taxpayers in the community,” said Evart City Manager Zack Szakacs.
He said Dean Foods provided the city with a revenue of $200,000 from sewer use when the business operated at full capacity. Because of the revenue, the citizen’s water and sewer rates could be kept low.
Currently, for sewer, there is a $12 base fee and a $4.19 cost per every thousand gallons disposed. For water, the base fee is $5 and a cost of $1.09 per every thousand gallons. Szakacs said a typical monthly bill would range in the area of $35.
“With the loss of Dean’s, we’re going to have to offset the balance and the burden is going to start falling on citizen shoulders. It’s sad,” Szakacs said, adding the city will begin seeing the loss in June after the final bill is paid within the month.
Increasing the base fee or the per-gallon rate is yet to be determined, but it would take effect on July 1.
In addition, the city has a legacy cost of purchasing chemicals to treat and break down the waste Dean Foods left behind in the sludge lagoons.
Downtown Development Authority Director Al Weinberg said the closure will be felt across the city.
“Probably the biggest loss is that a great community partner is gone,” he said, adding the dairy not only hired many Evart residents, but also supported many events that took place throughout the year.
Financially, Weinberg said a hit in the area of $20,000 will affect the DDA in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Approximately 200 people were employed at the dairy, and many were from the Evart area. Weinberg said staff at Michigan Works! have been adamant about providing resources and training for Dean Foods employees to help further their job possibilities. Some employees were transferred to other company facilities as well, he added.
The DDA, along with the Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA) and the city, are working to attract companies that could fill the vacant dairy. Weinberg said the dairy building itself is in great condition and ideal for the next occupant’s use.
“We’re aggressively looking to fill the spot,” Weinberg said. “There are a lot of great reasons to have a business in Evart.”
Szakacs said even if another business does utilize the building, it would have to provide the city with the same amount of revenue as Dean’s in order to fill the gap. Property tax will be paid by the company, but it could be reduced, he added.
The closing of the dairy also will affect the Evart Public School district as well.
Though student count numbers in February did not reflect a large decrease, superintendent Howard Hyde said he is unsure if more students will leave due to the business’ end.
“If so, it will hurt, but I also understand the parents need to do what is best for the family,” said Hyde.
Dean Foods also provided the EPS buses with diesel fuel. Now, the district will need to decide where fuel will be purchased.
“It was great they were able to share their facility with us, but it’s kind of a wait-and-see situation right now,” Hyde added.
He believes buses will fill up with fuel at varying places throughout the area, depending on the bus route. There are many stations that offer diesel along routes buses travel, Hyde said.
LDFA Director Melora Theunick said there are few in Evart who will not feel the affects of the loss of Dean Foods.
“It’s just a huge chain reaction,” Theunick said, adding displacement is a realistic situation for many families. “It’s very sad that we’ll be losing members of the community that have been friends and neighbors.”
She said she will always remember Dean Foods as a business that took the time to give back and care for Evart.
“Dean’s always has been a supporter of the community. Any time you asked them for a donation for anything they would give and they do give,” she added.
The legacy of Dean Foods extended to more than one generation for some. Sears resident Rick Sherman and his son were former employees of the company, collecting more than 55 years of time between the pair.
“I feel pretty bad about them closing. It’s a big part of the community,” said Sherman, who used to be a processor during pasteurization and helped make chocolate milk and egg nog.
He said he began in the early 1970s and accepted the first buy-out incentive the company provided its employees.
“We built it up from scratch. When we started, we would make 17,000 gallons a day, and by the time I left we were rolling out 200,000 gallons,” he added.
What he will remember most, however, are the times spend with fellow co-workers who became fast friends. Sherman said the company would provide picnics and other enjoyable gatherings during the year where employees could relax and take pride in their work from outside the facility.
“We had fun together. We worked hard, but we had fun doing it,” he said.
Sherman also reiterated the generosity of the company. As president of the Osceola County Fair Board, he said Dean Foods always bought animals and milk during the fair 4-H events and loaned equipment if any was needed. The support will be missed.
“We appreciate everything Dean’s did for us over the years,” he said.