MORONI — Help may be on the way for the central Utah company that produces turkeys and turkey products, which had planned to lay off about 450 employees for about three months.

This week, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s office announced that efforts were under way to prevent a shutdown at Moroni Feed Company, a co-op of turkey growers that produces the Norbest brand.

Company officials said last week that because of skyrocketing prices of corn, a main component in turkey feed, the business had become unprofitable.

The company's answer to the problem was to shut down production for about three months, a move that would have affected about 450 workers, some of them permanently. Such action by the largest nongovernment employer in Sanpete County would have a significant impact on the local economy, and perhaps even a small affect on the state's overall economy as well.

But the governor had an answer of his own.

"Upon hearing about this, he directed GOED (the Governor's Office of Economic Development) to begin working on it. This is a thing they've been very aware of and want to do everything they can to alleviate the situation," said Lisa Roskelley, the governor's spokeswoman. "GOED is looking at all the options the state has at its disposal."

"We're going to various government agencies and programs to see what's available to help the situation," said Jason Perry, GOED's executive director.

Foremost among those agencies are the state and federal departments of agriculture.

"Right now, we've been going through financials to see what the picture really looks like for them, so that we can match the right government organization to the problem," Perry said. "That's what's been happening this entire day."

Perry said the assistance package that is eventually put together could include a mix of low-interest loans, tax incentives and perhaps federal grant money. Perry did not say what amount of monetary assistance was being sought.

"We certainly have a dollar range that we have just gathered from the company today, but we've not had our economists review that. I wouldn't feel comfortable saying we have a dollar amount yet," he said Wednesday.

Neither did he indicate a timeline for the package to be finalized and presented. "It's always a process to make sure we understand exactly what the needs are, and that we are prudent with taxpayer dollars as we assist," he said.

"With a co-op, there's a whole bunch of people feeding into that system. We have to be very thoughtful about where you apply the assistance to make sure it's felt throughout the entire system. It's important that we find the real source of need and help and remedy that," he said.

"Our ultimate goal is to save the jobs and to help this company that's been an important part of our state for so many years. I don't know how quickly it will be. We do know time is of the essence."

Bennion Spencer, Democratic candidate for Congress in Utah's 3rd District, where the company's hometown of Moroni is located, was to spend the July Fourth holiday in the area to spread the message that "help is on its way."

Spencer has been in contact with the governor's office and after hearing about the "rescue" plans decided to visit the city, the company and the employees to deliver the news.

"The more I talk to people, and the more I talk to the governor's office, I want people to know this thing can work," he said. Moroni Feed Company spokesman Kent Barton said Thursday the company had no official comment other than to say, "The governor's office called to express concern. That's all that's officially been done."

Roskelley said, "The magnitude of the governor's concern for this company shows his level of commitment."


E-mail: john@sanpetemessenger.com