Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Hershey story probably myth

Hershey story probably myth
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
And way back in the day, once upon a time, chocolate giant Hershey wanted to build a plant here. Jobs aplenty! Glenn County, the land of milk, honey, and candy!

If only the stupid supervisors hadn’t turned it down.

That’s one form of a story that’s been circulating around the county for decades.

It could be true. But it’s probably not.

After making numerous inquiries, the Valley Mirror isn’t sure if the company ever was interested in building in Glenn County – or if so, how keen they were on construction. Or whether the board of supervisors ever heard the project. Or anything, really.

A supervisors’ minute search from 1959 to the mid-80’s came back with nothing about Hershey, deputy clerk Sandra Pergson said.

In 1965, the company opened a plant a couple of hours south of Glenn County – in Oakdale, near Modesto. It employed 600 people until closing down this February.

Local high Republican Gloria Iriwn and Gene Stewart came here in 1963 and 1968, respectively; each remembers rumors flying around predating their arrival.

“When I first came here (in the mid-70s), I heard a story about Hershey,” former Willows city manager Russ Melquist says. “I’ve never seen any factual data to back that up.”

Same with former county auditor Joe Sites, who got here a few years earlier, in 1969.

“It has about as much substance as normal myth, I think,” he said.

Long-time supervisor Keith Hansen isn’t sure either.

“Talk about a lot of things comes around,” he says. “Who knows who started it?”

Before the Hershey rumors got started, says former Willows city council Matt Wiest says, a similar one was floating around.

People said that “some company wanted to put a toothpaste factory here,” and locals “drove ‘em out.”

“That was the rumor before I got here – and I came here in ’59,” Mr. Wiest says.

As a council member in the early 1960s, Mr. Wiest was responsible for economic development, helping to convince Johns-Manville to come.
But Hershey coming here “is just a rumor as far as I know,” he says.

If Hershey was anything other than a rumor, would he have known?

“I think so.”

The rumor has surfaced before.

In September 1985, during the debate over whether to ask the Department of Corrections to build a prison here, longtime Chamber of Commerce and economic development activist Shirley Dempsey reported:

“Rumored prospects of a 600-employee Hershey plant were dampened with several revelations. Telephone inquiries placed with two departments of the Pennsylvania-based firm both drew negative inquiries, according to Gary Freeman (then a planning commissioner and Orland city councilman). The City of Chico, acting on a similar Butte County rumor, received equally discouraging correspondence from the company. Further, the candy company’s Oakdale plant, which supplies the 11 western states, is operating at 60 to 65 percent of capacity, according to a supervisory employee there.”

The Hershey plant has been seen as an ideal standard of development: clean industry.

Talking about a prison in May 1986, supervisor candidate Bette Schmidt said she would “rather have a chocolate factory, but will go along with the will of the people.”

And whether myth or truth, the chocolate factory is implanted in the minds of many.

Mentioning this series to Mirror columnist Barry Duncan, a ’92 transplant, he immediately talked about Hershey. Another local citizen – this one a prominent native – mentioned Hershey’s rejection in asserting that the county had an anti-development bias.

A fair contention, perhaps – but one best made with verifiable facts.

Hershey representatives did not return calls.

Of course, if you have any information on Hershey being more than a myth, feel free to write us (138 W. Sycamore, Willows) or give us a call, 934.9511.

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