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'It's going to impact our community dramatically': Sidney braces for ripple effect of sugar factory closure

Sidney Sugars
Posted at 8:50 PM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-10 12:02:35-05

SIDNEY — It's a big hit to Montana's small towns.

Three hundred people will lose their jobs when Sidney Sugars closes its doors in mid-April, shuttering the factory after nearly 100 years in operation.

Along with factory workers, farmers, small businesses, schools and more will feel the impact of the closure, as sugar beet production is deeply ingrained in the local economy.

“It’s going to impact our community dramatically," says Sidney Mayor Rick Norby.

Niehenke Welding started as a blacksmith shop in Sidney in 1921, making it just a little older than the sugar beet factory.

“We’re celebrating our 101st year this year," says Ross Rosaaen, president of the company.

In the Rosaaen family for generations, Ross Rosaaen and his father, Stanley, have built their business working with beet farmers.

“Our main priority is our farmers. They have always come first," Rosaaen said.

That's why news of the sugar factory closing is so difficult to bear.

“The impact of this closure in our area does not just affect Sidney. It affects the outlying communities. It is millions of dollars that is possible loss of revenue for the state of Montana and our county. It’s devastating," Rosaaen said.

From the welding shop, to other multi-generational family-owned businesses in and around Sidney, such as Western Tire and Tri-County Implement, a lot of the valley's economy is closely tied to sugar beet production.

“It actually impacts almost every facet of our economy in Sidney and Fairview," says Gerrold Baxter, manager of Western Tire. "The beet growers come in and they spend their money on tires or in the restaurants, and if I get some money for tires I go spend it locally in the restaurants or in the grocery stores or on my kid’s activities. So the trickle-down effect is real when it comes to something like this. Because the money coming in, we’re going to have to get it from somewhere else.”

Sidney Sugars, previously Holly Sugars, was purchased by American Crystal Sugar Co. of Moorehead, Minnesota, in 2002.

American Crystal announced the closure of the plant on Monday, saying in a press release: "The growers of the Montana-Dakota Beet Growers Association showed there is no longer adequate interest in growing sugar beets to sustain operations at Sidney Sugars Incorporated."

That doesn't sit right with the people and the mayor of Sidney.

“[I] was not impressed at all with the letter that was put out to employees. Most definitely not," said Norby. "This is not the farmers’ fault, by any means. When you keep cutting, keep cutting, keep cutting, there’s going to be a point in time where the farmer can’t afford to raise them anymore."

Rosaaen and Baxter echo the mayor's sentiments.

“American Crystal did the farmers dirty," Rosaaen said.

On top of the loss of a profitable crop is the specialty sugar beet farm equipment all across the valley that no longer has a purpose, making the true economic loss of sugar beets hard to quantify.

“I think it’s beyond anybody’s belief of how far that ripple will go. Hopefully we (get) through it. That’s all we can do," Norby said.

Despite the shadow looming over the community, Sidney has hope for the future.

“We’re a stubborn town. We’re very resilient. We’re a close-knit community," Rosaaen said.

“I just believe now it’s time to stick together and help out as much as we can," Norby said.