Thursday, December 26, 2002

They're Bobs-bob-bobbin' along

Candy cane company says it's emerged from near bankruptcy with renewed spirit

By Elliott Minor
The Associated Press

ALBANY, Ga. - A few months ago, employees of the world's largest candy cane manufacturer didn't know if they would have jobs this holiday season.

Bobs Candies Inc., a mainstay of the Albany economy for 83 years, made the surprise announcement on May 10 that it would shut down its plant in the city because it was teetering near bankruptcy.

Malinda Hicks didn't know what she would do if she lost her employer of 30 years.

"I was 56 at the time," said Hicks, who works at a machine that bends the peppermint candy into a crook. "Where would I find a job? Who was going to take me?"

A few days after the announcement, Hicks and her co-workers cleaned out their lockers.

But with the support of officials including Gov. Roy Barnes and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, an Albany native, the company was able to secure the financing it needed to save 550 jobs - 250 in Albany and 300 at Bobs' plant in Reynosa, Mexico.

"After they got involved, we started having hope," said Hicks, a union representative.

Greg McCormack, president of the privately held company, said the financial woes helped forge Bobs into a leaner, stronger and more innovative company. The bulk of its products are sold around Christmas time.

"It was a rough year, but what we got from the community was very special," said McCormack's sister, Julie Roth, a vice president. "It is the time of year for giving and when we think about what happened, it's overwhelming and rewarding."

McCormack is one of the three grandchildren of the company's founder, Bob McCormack, who began producing assorted candies in Albany in 1919 and decided to specialize in candy canes in the 1950s after the process was automated.

Bobs closed when its bank refused to continue further financing. Eventually, the company got a commitment from another bank to refinance its $15.2 million debt.

Bobs and several other candy makers have opened plants in Canada or Mexico, where sugar is cheaper. The U.S. sugar subsidy, which keeps domestic sugar prices at about double the world price, remains a serious concern, McCormack said.

"I get very upset when I have to pay twice as much as my competitors for sugar," McCormack said.

But Jack Roney of the American Sugar Alliance, a coalition of farmers, processors and suppliers, said the sugar program is aimed only at preventing the dumping of inferior, subsidized sugar on the U.S. market.


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