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Photo by Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe.
Photo by Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe.

April's nasty weather took out more than just power

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- When an ice storm blanketed the region earlier this month, causing rural power outages and rolling blackouts in the city, Worthington's largest employer took a major hit to the pocketbook.

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Earlier this week, JBS general manager Bob Krebs said the company figured a $675,000 loss, which doesn't include loss margins or customer satisfaction issues. The biggest expense was moving hogs from the Worthington facility to another JBS-owned plant in Marshalltown, Iowa.

Employees at Marshalltown worked overtime to get all of the pigs processed, while Worthington employees had two or three shifts of unpaid, lost work.

"We got shut down early Tuesday night when the power went off," said Krebs. The city provided generator power to help JBS process the animals already on the line, but Wednesday and Thursday shifts were cancelled to help the city conserve its generator power to provide rolling blackouts to residents.

Krebs said employees spent about a week getting caught up and returning to a normal processing schedule, but he doesn't know if the plant will be able to recoup its financial loss resulting from the storm.

Pat Williams, general manager of Merck's Worthington location, said they are still figuring their losses after being forced to close for two and a half days because of the frequent power outages.

The more than 50 employees at the local facility were paid for the days they were closed.

"Lucky for us, our schedule was in such a way that although there was some impact, it was minimal," Williams said.

Merck manufactures vaccines used to treat everything from cattle and swine respiratory diseases to equine influenza and ailments in poultry. Employees of the facility are still working to catch up on those days of lost productivity, but Williams said "we are glad our employees are safe, power is restored and everyone is back."

Champion Homes in Worthington also weathered the storm as well as could be expected. The local home manufacturer's 180 employees lost three days of work as a result of the ice storm, and continue to catch up on orders.

Kim Kuechenmeister, human resources manager for Champion, said the company could have partially operated some of its shifts, but it was too difficult with the city's rolling blackouts.

"We are thrilled with the city for keeping us with power, but we couldn't bring in the crews or the office workers," she said.

Marty Rickers, sales manager for Bedford Industries, said the ice storm and power outages brought a different twist to its company. Icy roads and downed trees made it impossible for sales staff to get out of town to participate in a trade show in Boston.

"We had four people that cancelled out on a good trade show," Rickers said. "That was a big impact on Bedford."

Inside the manufacturing facility, the rolling blackouts made it impossible to make twist ties and assorted tagging products. Computerized systems on the production floor couldn't be subjected to frequent power outages, so the entire production facility was closed for three days.

"It impacted employees more than anything because they had to take vacation days or non-paid days, which is difficult for many people," Rickers said.

Veteran Bedford employees say the three-day closure was unprecedented.

On a positive note, Rickers said the company normally "stays ahead of the game" in production, so orders didn't get backed up.

"Certainly, there was an impact, but that impact is really, really tough for us to gauge," he said. "It was a hassle and it was a problem, there's no doubt about it."

Despite the impact, Rickers said the city did "a fabulous job" managing the rolling blackouts until power was fully restored.

Finally, while it may not be a major industry, the only grocery store in a town without power also encountered its share of loss.

Julie Hulstein, manager of Maynard's in Fulda, gives much credit to meat manager Don Rolph, other store employees and dozens of community volunteers for stepping in to help when coolers shut off and everything from meat and milk to fruits and vegetables had to be saved.

The power went off in Fulda around 3 a.m. April 10, and within two hours temperatures were rising in the cases. By 5:30 a.m., Hulstein, Rolph and a neighboring business owner were emptying the store's four refrigerated cases of food into grocery carts and wheeling them to the outside loading dock.

When the power returned around 11 a.m. that day, half a dozen customers helped bring all of the carts of food back in to restock the cases.

"It was so awesome," Hulstein said. "It was a lot of product."

The store made it through the afternoon and evening with power, but at 10:40 p.m., the lights were out more. Again, Hulstein knew what had to be done.

With the town in the dark, she called on her son and six of his friends -- home because their overnight shift at Bedford Industries was cancelled -- for help. They, along with Rolph, cleared the cases in little more than an hour, again pushing food in carts out to the loading dock.

"I don't know how two of us would have done all that," Hulstein said.

By Thursday noon, a semi-trailer was brought in to store the perishable food, but it was already too late for some products.

"We threw out all of the ice cream and all the novelties," Hulstein said. "We threw mushrooms, lettuce, grapes."

Meanwhile, customers brought in totes to load out frozen foods. Through it all, the store remained open to customers.

"I did more sales on that Thursday than I do on a Sunday, and that's pretty good," Hulstein said.

As customers came in, they were given a flashlight and sent down aisles in search of everything from bottled water to batteries and junk food.

"Our chips were wiped out, and we would get them luncheon meat and milk off the dock," Hulstein said.

Power returned to Maynard's around midnight Thursday, April 12.

Hulstein estimates she lost between $1,500 and $2,000 in product as a result of the power outage, and that doesn't include the cost of renting the trailer or two trips to Adrian to get their Affiliated Foods delivery that was left at Keith's Grocery.

"I hope we don't have to do it again in a lifetime," Hulstein said before offering some community thanks.

"It's just amazing how everyone helped and came together when it wasn't a planned thing," she said. "Small town people help out."

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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