State sending Rapid Response team to Portland after Barber Foods announces 83 layoffs

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PORTLAND — Barber Foods announced on Monday it will lay off 83 employees by the end of August.

Chief Executive Officer David Barber said the layoffs are not related to the recent acquisition of Barber Foods by Cincinnati-based AdvancePierre Foods.

“It would have happened regardless of the acquisition,” Barber said.

Barber said the company has been planning to consolidate four production lines into three at its St. John Street facility. That project gained footing within in the last seven months, he said.

“This is part of our efficiency plans we’ve been working on for about a year,” Barber said. “It has literally nothing to do with the acquisition by AdvancePierre.”

Barber Foods employs about 660 people, Barber said. Nearly half are immigrants from more than 55 countries.

Barber could not say on Monday how many of the workers who will lose their jobs are immigrants.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Barber Foods is the city’s sixth-largest employer, behind Unum, Maine Medical Center, Mercy Hospital, the city and Fairpoint.

“Certainly, we’re disappointed to learn of the layoffs,” Clegg said. “We hope those folks can find work locally.”

Barber said workers have been given 60 days’ notice ahead of the layoff. Each will be compensated one week’s salary for every year worked, he said.

Judith Pelletier, coordinator for the Maine Department of Labor’s Rapid Response program, which assists recently laid off workers, said her department plans to meet with Barber employees on Wednesday and Thursday to sign them up for unemployment benefits and other programs.

The team will also inform workers about the state’s career services and conduct an evaluation of the workers’ needs, to either find them new employment or set up training opportunities.

“We have a little bit of time to work with these workers to get things together, like resumes,” Pelletier said.

Barber said he expects additional layoffs in early 2012, once plans are finalized to consolidate Barber’s corporate office with its parent company. More layoffs in Portland cannot be ruled out, either.

“We’re always looking for productivity gains,” Barber said. “And we would expect that gains may happen in the future. I can’t tell you when or how much, but that is always something we work through to make sure we look at gains and improvements.”

AdvancePierre Foods is majority-owned by Oaktree Capital Management, a private, Los Angeles-based firm that specializes in acquiring companies in low-risk, less-efficient markets.

According to the investment firm’s website, Oaktree believes “dispassionate application of skill and effort should pay off for our clients.”

“Our ultimate objective is investment success,” the firm says, “the fruits of which are shared by Oaktree’s clients and personnel.”

Oaktree is also reportedly preparing an initial public offering of stock that is expected to generate $100 million in equity capital.

A report by Bloomberg TV on the Washington Post website indicates that companies typically try to maximize their assets ahead of an IPO.

Barber said he is confident the investment strategy will not result in a bare-bones operation, or the eventual closure, of the Portland business. 

Barber said AdvancePierre is planning a $10 million investment and is working towards consolidating the Barber Foods brand into the AdvancePierre family.

“I definitely look at how they act,” he said. “They’re acting as they’re building a business and not taking it apart.”

AdvancePierre currently employs about 4,000 people and has net sales of about $1.3 billion.

The merger is needed to stay competitive in a market dominated by larger companies, Barber said.

Barber Foods will add its menu of 300 frozen raw and fully cooked foods, featuring a variety of stuffed chicken breasts and other chicken products, to AdvancePierre’s packaged sandwiches, fully cooked chicken and beef, Philly-style steak, breaded beef, pork and baked goods.

“We’re small guys in a monstrous market,” Barber said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

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