Esskay, the century-old Maryland meatpacking plant, announced today that it will continue making its bacon in Baltimore rather than move to Indianapolis.
Negotiations with Indianapolis banks have been terminated because Esskay's executives are optimistic about negotiations under way with Baltimore banks to get financing for a new plant and other improvements, Esskay President LeRoy Joseph said at a press conference.
The financially troubled firm, the second-largest pork producer in the region, had hoped to iron out the financing agreement with the banks before its announcement today. But the company, which employs 600, still has some last-minute details to complete, sources close to the company said.
Strong indications that Esskay could obtain financing from local banks for a new facility came days after the firm's largest union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, voted to extend its wage concessions and give the company more time to build a new plant.
"In more than 30 years in the meat industry, I have never experienced such a remarkable demonstration of a community working together to bring about this extraordinary change of events," said Joseph, who announced a month ago that the firm was shutting down operations and moving to Indianapolis.
Joseph said that Esskay broke off negotiations yesterday with the Indianapolis bankers who had visited Baltimore earlier this week.
When asked whether there was a chance the company could change its mind again, Joseph said, "So help me God, this is it. We're staying no matter what."
Although the financing package is not "committed" yet, city officials said they are "optimistic."
"We have reason to be fairly confident that very good progress is being made to tie up the Esskay financing," said Mark Wasserman of Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaeffer's office. "Clearly, the tide is beginning to swing in favor of Esskay's survival."
Charles D. Preston of the Indiana Department of Commerce, who had been trying to entice the meatpackers to follow the Colts there from Baltimore, said he was very disappointed with Esskay's decision to stay put. "I wanted the opportunity to give 250 Hoosiers a job," Preston said.
"But, you have to be philosophical and realize we were a fall-back position, as we should have been," Preston added.
Workers outside Esskay's vintage-1920s plant expressed skeptical relief yesterday with the company's announcement to stay in Baltimore.
"I'm very glad we've got a job to come back to," said Herman Braxton, an Esskay mixer operator who has worked for the plant for 17 years.
"But I think we have to play it by ear. When Esskay starts breaking ground over there for its new plant, then I'll have confidence they're going to stay."