Bird Flu-Related Layoffs Harming Faribault’s Economy, Residents

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It has been nearly three weeks since the last reported case of the bird flu in Minnesota. But the state has been hit hard since the outbreak began in March.

About nine million turkeys and more than 100 farms have been lost.

As the state recovers, some cities are feeling the economic impact of the outbreak.

Jennie-O Turkey Store in Faribault is just one business in the city, but when it was forced to lay off hundreds of workers in May, the impact extended far beyond Jennie-O.

“It is scary to be under that kind of stress on a day-to-day basis,” Bio Wood Processing co-owner Kim Halvorson said.

Bio Wood Processing depends on Jennie-O. They turn wood into turkey bedding. When the turkey processor stopped ordering their product, Bio Wood felt it in their pocketbooks. So far they have lost over $100,000.

“When you kind of go from that to nothing, it hurts,” co-owner Joe Barna said.

And Bio Wood has company. According to Faribault’s Economic Development Authority and the University of Minnesota Extension, the city is expected to see a loss of more than $78 million in output sales, and more than $16 million in labor income. That is based on annual numbers if the layoffs continue.

Jennie-O’s layoffs have hit Faribault’s Somali community especially hard.

“That was my first job since I moved to the United States,” former Jennie-O employee Abdi Fatah said.

Fatah was one of more than 200 Jennie-O workers laid off in May. Many of the laid-off workers are Somali immigrants.

He is hoping to be hired back, but until then he is helping out at the Halal Market, which has also indirectly become a victim of the bird flu.

As a result of the layoffs, business is down 20 percent at the market as fewer customers are coming in.

“Because of the layoff a lot of people don’t come right now,” Fatah said. “Most of them, they move out, they go to look to other places for job.”

Fatah says a lot of former employees have moved to Minneapolis or out of state to find a job.

Jennie-O is hoping to rehire some of the workers that have been laid off, but there is no timetable on when that might happen.

More from John Lauritsen
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