VINELAND — The planned closure of the Progresso soup plant this summer has city and Cumberland County officials wondering about the future of the West Elmer Road facility.

The decision on the property rests with Progresso’s parent company, General Mills.

General Mills has said it will partner with the city and other agencies to find a new user for the sprawling complex.

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The city’s economic development department and the Cumberland County Improvement Authority are forwarding to the Minnesota-based company the names of companies that have expressed interest in the site.

“We are all very confident that as we continue down the process of working with Progresso … that we can work with some other entity to backfill the property and create jobs,” said CCIA Executive Director Gerard Velasquez.

However, Velasquez said, “nothing has been committed to.”

City Economic Development Director Sandy Forosisky said General Mills is “kicking the tires with some different companies.”

The most likely fit for the property would be another food-processing company, she said.

Forosisky said it’s unlikely the city can provide big enough economic lures for large companies to take over the plant.

“We’re talking substantial money,” she said. “Our little Urban Enterprise Zone loans aren’t going to make a difference.”

Some substantial funds to attract a company to the site could come from the state Economic Development Authority, Forosisky said.

Any tenant considering locating at the Progresso site could, based on eligibility, apply for EDA financing that includes loans, bonds or Grow New Jersey tax credits, said Virginia Pellerin, the authority’s program manager.

The EDA is also part of the Partnership for Action, which has a “business action center” that serves as a one-stop ship for companies, she said.

“The staff of the business action center is aware of the availability of the Progresso site, and is knowledgeable about its features,” she said. “The merits of the site are presented to any client for which the property may be suitable.”

General Mills announced the closing in July, saying it planned to “transfer production to other U.S. facilities to eliminate excess soup capacity in … North America.” The company confirmed the closing in September.

General Mills on Monday filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice, commonly referred to as a WARN notice, with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The WARN filing is required by the federal government so workers can get 60-day layoff notices connected to mass layoffs or factory closings.

The WARN notice indicated General Mills will lay off 338 workers. The first 65 employees are scheduled to lose their jobs March 24, according to the notice and General Mills.

Velasquez said the CCIA will provide job training for the Progresso workers who lose their jobs.

The plant has been a mainstay of Cumberland County’s economy since the 1940s. It was bought by General Mills in 2001 and was featured in a series of national advertisements touting Vineland as the home of Progresso soup.

This year is Progresso’s 75th anniversary.

“It’s a big blow,” Velasquez said of the plant’s closing.

Contact: 609-226-9197 TBarlas@pressofac.com Twitter @acpressbarlas

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