People in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley are “cheering in the streets” after the Victorian government stepped in with $22 million to keep fruit processor SPC Ardmona operating in the region.
The government’s contribution is part of a $100 million co-investment to refit the company’s Shepparton cannery and protect 2700 jobs, with SPC’s parent company Coca-Cola Amatil putting in the remaining $78 million.
The funding deal includes a conditions attached to the government’s contribution that a minimum of 500 full-time equivalent employees are employed for three years.
Cobram fruit grower Tony Latina, who has been supplying the cannery for 46 years, said it was welcome news after a tough year.
“Unfortunately it’s a bit late for some farmers who have already gone under while waiting for new contracts,” he said on Thursday.
“But thankfully the government has seen the light, so it’s back to work we go!”
Premier Denis Napthine said SPC was committing to Victoria for the long haul.
“It is a great day for jobs in Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley, a great day for SPC Ardmona, a great day for our fruit growers and our fruit industry and a fantastic day for Victoria,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
SPC managing director Peter Kelly said the money would be spent to develop new products, packaging and export markets.
“Thanks to today’s investment package we’ll be able to provide a myriad of new products, as well as improving efficiencies and productivities at Shepparton,” he said.
Kelly said he expected the news would be well received in the region.
“When the premier and I go to Shepparton tonight, there’ll be cheering in our factories and cheering in the streets of the Goulburn Valley,” he said.
All payments made under the deal must be refunded if SPC Ardmona stops operating at Shepparton within five years.
The agreement comes two weeks after the federal government knocked back a request to contribute $25 million to a $200 million package, which was to be topped up with $25 million from the state government and $150 million in Coca-Cola Amatil’s own funds.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday’s deal vindicated his government’s decision not to provide the company with federal funding.
“We said SPC Ardmona had a good future and it does. We said that it didn’t need $25 million from the commonwealth and it doesn’t,” he said.
Federal Liberal MP Sharman Stone, who was a vocal critic of her government not giving money to SPC, said the deal showed the power of the people.
“We can turn off the bulldozers today, we can get back to the business of growing the best fruit for processing in the world,” she told reporters.
The mayor of Greater Shepparton City Council, Jenny Houlihan, said if the cannery was to close it would have sucked $650 million from the region’s economy and pushed its unemployment rate to 10 per cent.
“It would’ve been particularly hard on growers who were already starting to burn their trees months ago due to a drop-off in fruit going to the cannery, then there’s the jobs at the factory, drivers delivering the goods,” she told AAP.
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