Russell Stover to add jobs at Iola plant
A reshuffling at other Russel Stover Candies facilities across the Midwest will mean more jobs for Iola’s production plant.
The Kansas City-based company announced Tuesday it was closing several of its low-traffic stores across the country as well as its production facility in Montrose Colo., and distribution centers in Butler, Mo, and Cookeville, Tenn.
Most of the changes are slated to occur over the next 15 months.
“We still don’t know the number of employees we will be adding” to the Iola facility, Russell Stover spokesman Robbie Vorhaus told the Register in an email. “Our plan is to incorporate those employees from Montrose who wish to move to Iola into our production facility.”
Plants in Abilene and Corsicana, Texas, also will add employees as part of the changes.
In total, the closures will amount to about 400 jobs being displaced to third-party companies, while expansions elsewhere will add more than 300.
In this 2001 file photo, Ann Gandhi sorts through chocolate hearts, destined for Valentine’s Day gifts, as they stream along a conveyor at Iola’s Russell Stover Candies plant. REGISTER FILE PHOTO
Andy Deisler, the company’s chief executive officer, listed several factors leading the company to choose Iola among its places to expand, including its “authentic and dedicated workforce with a strong work ethic.”
He also lauded governmental support at both the local and state levels, “specifically working with David Toland, Kansas Secretary of Commerce, who supports business expansion in smaller communities like Iola.”
It’s not immediately known how many employees Iola will add to its workforce, which currently sits at about 450.
“We are still evaluating both employee count and additional production,” Vorhaus said.
Russell Stover Candies officials announced Tuesday it is restructuring several of its facilities across the country, and plans to expand its Iola production facility over the next 15 months. REGISTER/RICHARD LUKEN
Russell Stover said in its announcement that affected employees will be given advance notice and offered other opportunities within the company or severance.
“Our plan is to incorporate those employees from Montrose who wish to move to Iola into our production facility,” Vorhaus said.
TUESDAY’S announcement caps more than two years of behind-the-scenes preparation locally, with assistance from both the City of Iola and Iola Industries.
In 2017, the city purchased 80 acres of farmland west of Marshmallow Lane from Iola Industries for $400,000.
Iola Industries immediately reinvested those funds, including the purchase of about 16 acres of land adjacent to the Russell Stover plant from the Patterson family, then resold that land (at a loss) to Russell Stover for potential expansion.
Meanwhile, company officials have taken steps to recruit and keep employees.
Vorhaus said pay and benefits have increased regularly in recent years to remain competitive, and has adjusted its work schedules in certain work centers to allow employees to work three 12-hour shifts and compensated for 40-hour workweeks.
“This shift structure is proving to be both popular and effective,” Vorhaus said. “We have plans to expand that structure in other work centers in Iola.”
John McRae, president of Iola Industries, said the local support to Russell Stover came from many avenues. He praised the efforts of both Iola and Allen County officials in assisting the candy company.
“It’s proof that if you keep plugging away, good things happen,” McRae said.
IOLA’S plant opened in 1995, and is one of three Russell Stover facilities that produce chocolate, with the others in Montrose, Colo., and Abilene. In 2014, Russell Stover was purchased by Lindt chocolates of Denmark, along with San Francisco-based Ghirardelli Chocolates.
Russell Stover Candies is the nation’s leading manufacturer of boxed chocolates and the third largest American chocolate manufacturer, trailing only Hershey and Mars.