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Unilever's Farewell to Clinton

By Kelly Smith

Publication: Shore Publishing

Published December 24. 2012 4:00AM   Updated December 27. 2012 10:15AM
Photo courtesy of Gloria McQueeney
A few longtime employees say goodbye to Clinton earlier this month. The facility, running for more than a century in Clinton, is officially closed for business.

The time has come. After more than a century of thriving in Clinton, the Unilever branch has officially closed its doors and, though it has been more than a year since the closure was announced, the town is still adjusting to the news.

"Unilever has been part of Clinton's history for over 100 years now, starting as Pond's and then Chesebrough-Pond's, then becoming Unilever International. They've always been a very community-oriented company," said First Selectman William "Willie" Fritz. "Many people that live in town worked at Unilever and it's going to be tough to see them go. They were really, really good to the town."

On July 14, 2011, Unilever announced to the public that the company's Clinton plant would be closing by the end of 2012. The plant had more than 100 years of history in town, beginning as the original Pond's plant and later merging and becoming Chesebrough-Ponds in 1955. The branch then changed to Unilever in 1987.

In announcing the closure, Plant Manager Paul Reiland stated, "An extensive and careful analysis has shown that greater efficiencies can be achieved by shifting production to other company plants in the U.S. This decision in no way reflects the dedication or performance of our colleagues at the Clinton facility."

The factory provided approximately 200 jobs in town. The decision to close the plant eliminated about 50 salaried and 135 hourly workers. Additional, temporary workers also lost an income.

Unilever representatives have repeatedly declined opportunities to discuss possible buyers of the building. When the plant was operating, it was the town's second-highest taxpayer with an assessed value of $26,100,040.

Though the goodbye was bittersweet, longtime employee Gloria McQueeney, who began working for the company in 1965 while still at The Morgan School through its work-experience program, said she wanted to especially thank the representatives at Unilever for making the leave as swift and bearable as possible.

"Our plant manager Paul Reiland and our [human resources] manager Meg Smith were really wonderful in how they brought us through the last 15 months," McQueeney said. "They brought us through with respect, compassion, and humor and of course all the employees, too, they were so professional and did everything they had to do to make sure it was a smooth transition, so they deserve a lot of thanks."

The loss of the company will mean more than the loss of jobs and tax revenue. As Clinton Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ellen Cavanagh noted in a letter to the editor, the history of Unilever's generosity to the town traces back to 1914 with a donation of a compressed air horn and in 1919 with the donation of a fire engine to the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department. The company was a strong supporter of troops overseas, sending needed supplies to conflicts from World War II to Afghanistan.

The company was also a large donor to the community, contributing to organizations including Junior Achievement, Clinton Flood Relief Committee, restoration of the Town Hall clock, Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries, Boys and Girls Clubs, United Way, Valley Shore YMCA, Clinton Education Foundation, Henry Carter Hull Library, Project Graduation, Middlesex Hospital, Bluefish Festival, Fire Department, Clinton Lions Club, Clinton Rotary Club, several churches, playgrounds, and child care centers, Families Helping Families, Friends of Hammonasset, Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, and Shoreline Community Women.

Most recently, Unilever donated its unused, left over supplies to both the Clinton Public Schools and the Town Hall, including office supplies and furniture.

A booklet called Glory Days, commemorating the history of the Clinton branch, is currently for sale, but only about 100 copies are left. Proceeds from the $20 detailed booklet will go toward the town's 350th Anniversary Celebration and can be purchased at the 350th headquarters located on 30 East Main Street and at Technique Printers located at 36 Old Post Road.

McQueeney will be spending the next few weeks at the Clinton Historical Library, organizing a large section of historical items dedicated to the Clinton Branch. Any former Chesebrough-Pond's and Unilever employees who would like to volunteer their time to assist her should email
gloriamcqueeney@gmail.com.

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