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ConAgra to Lay Off 180 Workers, Transfer 30 : Employment: The action affects 10% of the staff in a restructuring of 2 departments, officials say.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In yet another blow to Southern California’s economy, ConAgra Grocery Products Companies on Wednesday said it will eliminate 180 jobs, or 10% of its Orange County work force, as it restructures its corporate financial and information services departments.

Thirty additional Fullerton-based employees with “key areas of expertise” will be offered jobs in Omaha, where ConAgra is building a corporate service center to support its existing food businesses in Fullerton and Omaha.

The layoffs and transfers are driven by “a strategic business move which helps us take advantage of efficiencies,” Albert J. Crosson, ConAgra president and chief operating officer, said Wednesday. "(The restructuring) gives us the ability to respond more effectively to our customers and the needs of each of our companies.”

ConAgra is building what Crosson described as “a world-class system to process customer transactions and to facilitate growth for the long-term (including) acquisitions.” When the new facility is completed, it will take over corporate functions now conducted in Fullerton and Omaha.

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ConAgra Grocery Products Companies, a subsidiary of ConAgra Inc., a $23.5-billion diversified foods company headquartered in Omaha, now has about 1,800 employees in Fullerton. A year ago, ConAgra jolted local civic leaders when it laid off 500 full- and part-time workers at a ConAgra’s Hunt Food Co. tomato-processing plant in Fullerton.

The 180 layoffs announced on Wednesday will be spread out over the next nine to 11 months, ConAgra spokeswoman Kay M. Carpenter said. Displaced employees will be provided severance packages, outplacement assistance and counseling.

“This is a new operation that will employ new systems,” Carpenter said. “It will perform the same functions as several existing departments that are now located both in Fullerton and Omaha.”

News of the latest layoffs began circulating in Fullerton City Hall on Wednesday, but city officials said there is little they can do to prevent the jobs from disappearing.

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ConAgra “has told us on several occasions that they’re in a worldwide competition and they’re looking for every way to be competitive,” Fullerton City Manager James L. Armstrong said. “It’s frustrating to us in Southern California, because while we offer a good quality of life, it’s hard to compete with areas like Omaha that, overall, have a lower cost of living.”

ConAgra’s decision to cluster corporate functions at one central location “is another example of what’s going on in terms of the ability of corporations to telecommute,” Armstrong said. “They can operate in any community that they choose.”

The 500 jobs lost last year were linked to an ongoing cost-cutting program and increased competition worldwide.


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