SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 20, 2013

Mayor aims to coax US Foods to stay put

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt hasn’t given up on asking US Foods and its 270 workers to remain at the Centennial Park location they’ve occupied for 31 years, but he admits it will be a tough request for the distributor to swallow.

US Foods has made clear its intention to move to a much-larger facility in Seabrook, N.H., leaving Peabody because there simply isn’t room enough here for a $40 million expansion. The business has outgrown its current location.

“I’ve had discussions with John Glynn, the director of the plant in Peabody,” Bettencourt said yesterday. “And we’re having further discussions.

“Clearly, they need much more space, and they cannot expand there,” he said.

One alternative would be finding another site within Centennial Park that would meet US Foods’ needs, but while Bettencourt intends to seriously pursue the idea, he isn’t optimistic. The proposed Seabrook facility at 505,000 square feet would be difficult to match.

The mayor stressed that while US Foods laments a lack of space in Peabody, company officials have no other complaints about their time in the city.

“They say they’ve been very happy,” he said. Additionally, he noted, any move away from Peabody is on hold for up to a year and half, as the company hasn’t even begun the permitting process in Seabrook. That gives city officials time to encourage new tenants.

Ironically, revitalizing the industrial area has been a priority item for the mayor in recent months. Thus, the likely loss of US Foods is a bitter one.

While it took some city councilors by surprise on Wednesday, Bettencourt revealed that he was forewarned of the move and has been talking to company officials. That conversation was still continuing yesterday.

”We didn’t know that they’d set their focus on a particular location,” he said. “The Seabrook site, that was a surprise. ... Losing 200-plus workers will hurt. It will decrease the value of the property, which will affect the tax rate.”

US Foods employs 24,000 people nationwide, while earning $21 billion a year. It’s one of the largest companies of its kind in the United States, with headquarters in Illinois.

Meanwhile, as part of his effort to boost the park, the mayor has been preparing a more positive announcement.

“We’re getting ready to announce a couple of new businesses coming in that we’re excited about,” he said. After a pause, he added, “We’re taking a step forward, but we’re also taking a step back.”

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at aburke@salemnews.com.