Rural Town Struggles for Survival as Factory Closure Leaves One-Third Unemployed

By: Georgia | Published: Apr 24, 2024

A once bustling town in the Ozarks faces a dire economic challenge. 

Nearly a third of Noel’s residents found themselves jobless overnight after the closure of a major Tyson Foods Inc. plant. “The people around here are resilient,” declared Noel’s Mayor, Terry Lance.

Mayor Optimistic Amid Challenges

Noel’s Mayor Terry Lance sees a hopeful future despite the significant job losses. 

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A peaceful residential street in Noel, Missouri, with modest homes on either side, lush green trees, and a clear blue sky above

Source: City of NOEL, Missouri/Facebook

He expressed a positive outlook on the community’s spirit and direction. “I feel like I see more energy as far as people wanting the town to go in — at least what I believe is — the right direction, than I have seen for some time,” he added in his discussion with Fox News Digital.

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Major Job Loss and Resident Departure

Following the factory shutdown, Noel experienced a sharp decline in population and economic stability. 

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A worker in protective clothing and a face mask inspects production on a food processing line inside a Tyson Foods facility

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mayor Lance shared his concerns about the potential fallout from the closure. “I was concerned, very concerned that we might lose up to 25% of our population,” he stated.

Proactive Community Efforts

In response to the closure, local leaders including John Newby, McDonald County Chamber of Commerce President, organized job fairs to mitigate the unemployment crisis. 

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An indoor job fair scene showing various booths and a crowd of job seekers in a large hall with a glass ceiling and multi-level balconies

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Newby described the impact of the closure, comparing it to a major industry loss. “It’s like removing the auto industry from Detroit,” he said.

Personal Impact on Residents

Jimi Lasiter, who had worked at the plant for over a decade, shared her immediate reaction to the news of the closure. “I panicked and started looking for jobs,” she said

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A masked employee oversees a conveyor belt moving food products in a Tyson Foods processing plant with machinery and food items visible

Source: Wikimedia Commons

It took her nearly six months to secure another position, reflecting the limited job opportunities in the area.

Tyson Foods' Statement on Closure

A spokesperson from Tyson Foods addressed the closure, emphasizing their awareness of the impact on the community and their employees. 

The front view of the Tyson Learning Center with a modern facade featuring the Tyson logo, under a clear sky

Source: Tyson Foods/Facebook

“Closing a plant is always a difficult decision, and we understand the impact it has on the team members and community,” the spokesperson told Fox News.

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Economic and Service Impacts

The closure not only affected jobs but also the town’s fiscal health. Reduced sales tax revenues have forced the town to make cuts to essential services. 

A calm river flows through a rocky landscape with dense green trees and a hill in the background, under a clear sky

Source: TownsUSA/X

Mayor Lance highlighted the economic strain, noting a significant decrease in revenue.

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A Shift Towards Tourism

Despite the economic downturn, some locals see the closure as an opportunity to shift focus to tourism. 

A street view of downtown Noel at dusk with parked cars, local businesses including Elk River Mercantile and SKY grocery, and a "MEXICAN FOOD OPEN" signboard on the sidewalk

Source: ArkAdvocate/X

“It was a very pivotal moment with Tyson leaving,” Dustin Shurback, a local business owner, said. He believes that focusing on tourism could revitalize the town.

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Local Business Owner's Hope

Dustin Shurback, who owns multiple businesses in Noel, spoke about the initial impact and his future outlook. 

An aerial view of the Elk River, surrounded by lush greenery, with people enjoying various recreational activities on boats and rafts on a sunny day

Source: HotMessConserv2/X

“A large hit at first. I even felt it at my ice cream shop — our sales plummeted. But I think as the community comes together and focuses its direction on tourism, we can make a huge rebound,” he said.

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Plant Sale Possibilities

Tyson Foods still owns the facility and is open to discussions about its future. 

A sign with the Tyson logo at the entrance of a Tyson Foods facility, with cars parked in the background, and a well-maintained garden area in front

Source: DARnewspaper/X

The company’s spokesperson mentioned their willingness to explore opportunities. They said, “We are always open to exploring opportunities and are willing to discuss a potential sale with any interested party.” 

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Tourism Potential

The natural beauty of Noel, with its river and scenic surroundings, offers potential for developing tourism

A snowy scene by a river with bare trees and a dusting of snow covering the ground, reflecting the tranquil water flowing gently

Source: City of NOEL, Missouri/Facebook

This transition could provide a new economic pathway for Noel, leveraging its environmental assets to attract visitors.

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Looking Towards a Sustainable Future

Mayor Lance remains hopeful about leveraging Noel’s natural attractions to support a new economic direction. 

Two kayakers paddle down a river that borders a snowy landscape with barren trees and a clear blue sky overhead, illustrating a stark contrast between the water and snow

Source: City of NOEL, Missouri/Facebook

He said, “As long as we have the bluffs and the healthy river system, Noel can have a good future,” expressing confidence in the town’s ability to adapt and thrive post-closure.

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