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Warren Chamber Aims To Support Distribution Workers

The Irvine Distribution Center in Warren County is set to close in April. The Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry is working to support the 300 employees who will be out of work as well as advocating for future use of the property.

WARREN, Pa. — The Irvine Distribution Center in Warren County is set to close by the end of April.

But efforts are underway to support the 300 employees who are about to be left in the lurch while additional details emerge about the closure.

“Prior to the resolution of the bankruptcy we were contacted by a national commercial real estate firm, B. Riley, indicating they they had been engaged by Bluestem Group to sell the distribution center,” Jim Decker, president/CEO of the Warren County Chamber of Business & Industry told the Times Observer.

“We remain in contact with B. Riley who reports that to date there has been no meaningful interest expressed in the property from those national distribution/shipping firms that they have contacted regarding the property.”

Decker detailed a key issue impacting operations — the center was told by Bluestem Brands to Bluestem Group several years ago. Bluestem Group wasn’t involved in the bankruptcy and “a very lucrative lease agreement had been established between Bluestem Brands and Bluestem Group.”

A third-party firm was hired by Bluestem Brands to “manage the operation,” Decker said.

“The WCCBI, in collaboration with the Commonwealth’s Governors Action Team,” said Decker, who contacted the COO of that firm “to determine the trajectory that was unfolding relative to ongoing Warren-based operations.”

Decker said the firm “required to offer any specific information other than that the owner of the distribution center property was not willing to negotiate an acceptable lease agreement” and further said there was “nothing” the WCCBI or state entities could to do assist.

That occurred shortly before the closure was announced publicly.

“Upon receipt of this announcement, the WCCBI immediately contacted the state’s Rapid Response Team,” Decker said.

“This team is responsible for all large-scale layoffs and business closures within the Commonwealth,” assisting with unemployment services, displaced worker training and assistance programs.

“Several meetings,” he continued, “have been held with WCCBI, Bluestem Human Resources, Rapid Response and CareerLink personnel.”

Meetings with employees are expected to commence in early 2021 “to ensure that all services available to these individuals, totaling approximately 300, are efficiently delivered.”

The WCCBI will be “coordinating local and regional job fairs” to help those individuals find new positions and has “provided information describing the property in Irvine to several commercial real estate management firms” in addition to B. Riley “so as to provide any prospective buyer of the property required information regarding local workforce availability as well as coordinating any available incentive packages from the Commonwealth,” Decker said.

There is no connection between this closure and the Bluestem activities at the Hickory St. facility. While many employees are currently working from home, Decker said it was “reported that a return to the facility by July 2021 is planned.

That’s no consolation to those impacted by the distribution center closure.

“The closure of this facility is devastating to all involved and to this community,” Decker said.

“The primary focus of the WCCBI is to ensure that the workers being displaced receive every service and benefit they deserve in a timely manner.

“We will continue to pursue every opportunity to repurpose this property as a key economic driver for Warren County.”

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