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Luigino's nixes plans for $36 million frozen food plant; 600 jobs lost

By JESSE MANCINI

PARKERSBURG - A frozen foods company that touted 600 new jobs has dropped its plans to build a new plant at the Parkersburg Business Park.

David Satterfield, the executive director of the West Virginia Development Office, issued a two-sentence statement early Thursday afternoon saying he received official notification that Luigino's Inc. ''has discontinued plans to build a food processing plant in Parkersburg.'' No reason why was given.

Luigino's planned a $36 million, 250,000-square-foot plant at the business park on West Virginia 14.

It is not the first time the company has pulled out of a deal to build the plant and not the first time the project in Parkersburg died.

The deal with Luigino's - founded by Jeno Paulucci, the 2002 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year - went as far as a gala announcement in November, complete with the Parkersburg South High School band, Gov. Bob Wise and Paulucci. That was the second time the company announced the plant: the first was in June 1999 when a bevy of company, state and local officials joined former Gov. Cecil Underwood at the Wood County Airport.

Wise "and the appropriate officials continue to work closely with the company as well as Wood County officials to explore and access (sic) the current situation,'' the statement said.

Wise will have no comment other than the statement from the development office, his press secretary, Amy Shuler-Goodwin said.

Ron Bubar, president of the company, issued a one-sentence statement.

''We've decided to re-evaluate our existing capabilities to meet our near-term requirements,'' Bubar said.

Alan Stockmeister of Stockmeister Enterprises, the company building the plant, was not available for comment.

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel has asked the company for the past two weeks about the status of the project, specifically citing the company's problems with C8 contamination and the company halting its plans. The company, state development officers and the Parkersburg Utility Board representatives met March 7 to discuss the contamination and were told the Parkersburg water supply was not contaminated.

Luigino's would have been one of the city's largest customers. It was concerned its competition would use C8, also known as ammonium perfluorooctanoate, against its products, officials asking not to be identified said. The contamination and a related lawsuit filed by residents in the area of the DuPont plant have been locally reported for several years. The Columbus Dispatch carried a story several weeks ago, then the meeting was held with the state.

C8 was used to make Teflon at DuPont's Washington Works for more than 50 years. Its affect on humans has not been determined, although it remains in the body for long periods of time.

The site at the business park contains no contaminants, is miles away from DuPont, and the Parkersburg water system has no detectable levels of C8.

''The excuse is C8. Whether that's true, I don't know. I don't buy it,'' said Sam Davis, business manager for the Parkersburg-Marietta Building Construction Trades Council. ''I think they wanted out,'' he said.

The plant would have been built with local labor from all the trades, Davis said. He wasn't surprised of the announcement.

''I knew it was coming,'' he said.

Other sources said the company also is considering an industrial site near Wellston, Ohio, a few miles from its existing plant in Jackson, about 75 miles southwest of Parkersburg. Mayor John Stabler and Jackson County Commissioner Wendell Brunton said they were unaware of a project there, but said they would welcome the company.

The project was first announced June 1999. Construction never started and the state bought the site for $1.3 million from the Wood County Development Authority. The project at one point was dead.

The state's financial commitment to the project was a $6 million loan from the state Economic Development Authority, and loans to the Parkersburg Utility Board of $4.7 million from the Water Development Authority and the Revolving Loan Fund to run new water and sewer lines to the site. Neither loan will go through.

The utility board will be counting expenditures so far related to the project, such as design and right of way acquisition, which aren't a total loss when another company with high-water demands locates at the site, utility Manager Clarence Cox said.

''It's disappointing,'' Mayor Jimmy Colombo said.

Colombo has not been in contact with Paulucci or Bubar and doesn't plan to call them.

He also is uncertain whether the name of the road to the site, Jeno's Drive, will be changed and the sign removed.

''Our goal now is, since we have the best development site in the state of West Virginia, is to try to fill it,'' he said.

Local officials involved with the project were disappointed.

''We've been working since Day 1and it's hard to believe we haven't been taken advantage of,'' said Greg Smith, chairman of the development task force, part of the Wood County Economic Roundtable

''It's a shame that the decision not to bring Luigino's to the community seems to be based more on speculation than solid evidence,'' Smith said. ''This is a good area. Ask any of the businesses here, this is an excellent area to do business and raise a family.

 








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