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State pledges aid to Shore workers at closing plant


SALISBURY -- The Schaefer administration yesterday pledged $250,000 in federal funds for programs to help 804 workers at the Campbell Soup Co. plant here prepare for the loss of their jobs when the Eastern Shore facility closes in August.

Beginning next month, state and local officials will offer orientation sessions for Campbell employees seeking advice on job retraining, financial counseling and other matters related to the shutdown of the 270,000-square-foot plant.

Campbell officials announced on Feb. 12 that the Salisbury facility, which makes soups and frozen dinners, as well as its Mrs. Paul's frozen fish products plant in Philadelphia, would be closed as part of a restructuring of the giant food company's worldwide network.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer met privately with some of the workers yesterday to describe the retraining and counseling programs to be run jointly by the state Department of Economic and Employment Development and the Lower Shore Private Industry Council.

Money for the programs come from a federal job training partnership that gives state officials authority to designate where it will be used.

Outside the plant, Mr. Schaefer pledged to help Wicomico County lure new jobs to the area, which has an 8.3 percent unemployment rate.

The Campbell shutdown will mean the end of an annual $21.5 million payroll for the area. Of the 804 employees, 609 earn between $8.50 and $9.56 an hour. There are 105 salaried employees, some who earn between $40,000 and $50,000 a year, according to company data.

DEED Secretary Mark L. Wasserman said he plans to set up a "nerve center" inside the plant April 1 to help workers prepare for what now seems to be an uncertain job future. In addition to job training and educational remediation, workers will be provided with personal counseling.

Mr. Wasserman also said the state would help Campbell search for a buyer for the Salisbury plant. That could be a tough sell. According to one source close to the plant shutdown decision, Campbell executives tried unsuccessfully for six months to locate a buyer for the 48-year-old building, which Campbell acquired from C. A. Swanson & Sons in 1955.

Despite the shock of the Campbell's closing, the Salisbury area's economic picture is not entirely bleak, according to the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development office's outgoing executive director.

As many as 500 jobs are expected to be created locally over the next several years with the arrival of three companies, Robert Kiley said.

While the projected new jobs will not entirely make up for the loss at Campbell's, the county is anticipating employment growth in the manufacturing sector, he said.

"Our philosophy has been to work almost strictly with manufacturing, which means that one manufacturing job usually brings three service jobs with it," he said.

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