HEYBURN – J.R. Simplot Co. officials confirmed today that the company will shutter its Heyburn distribution center in a phased closure beginning in August.

J.R. Simplot Co. spokesman David Cuoio said the facility employs 56 people.

“The Heyburn center distributes primarily frozen potato products from our Aberdeen plant by truck to quick-serve restaurants and other food service customers in the West and Midwest,” said Cuoio.

The first phase of the closure will occur at the end of August and affect most of the employees, and the final part of the closure will occur during late summer 2014 and will affect the few remaining employees, the company said in a press release.

“This was a difficult decision and we hate to enact layoffs for any reason, but the business factors that influenced this closure were too great to ignore,” said Mark McKellar, president of Simplot Food Group, in the news release.

The company will provide employees with severance packages and employment assistance.

The distribution center at the company’s existing potato processing plant in Caldwell is already doing the same type of work as the Heyburn facility, and the Heyburn center will become even less cost-effective when Simplot begins operations at its new Caldwell potato processing plant in the fall of this year, the release said.

A large, more modern distribution center will begin operations in conjunction with start-up of the new Caldwell plant.

“The existing distribution center at Caldwell already is positioned to take product right off the production lines, prepare it for distribution, and ship it out via trucks and railcars that are right outside the plant,” said McKellar. “This current efficiency and the even greater capabilities of the new Caldwell distribution center make it impossible for us to justify the additional costs involved in continuing to run products through the Heyburn distribution center.”

Employees affected by the change will have the opportunity to apply for jobs at other Simplot facilities, according to James Pegram, senior director of human resources for Simplot Food Group, in the news release.

“We will always consider experience and Simplot longevity as factors when we make hiring decisions,” Pegram said.

Simplot closed its Heyburn potato processing facility in 2003, eliminating about 650 jobs. The company continued to operate the distribution center at Heyburn.

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