Without Livingston, there is no Foster Farms, and without Foster Farms, there is no Livingston.
Those were the words of Mayor Pro Tem Gurpal Samra as he explained the company’s impact on the city. Samra joined Mayor Rodrigo Espinoza and Councilman Arturo Sicairos in presenting Foster Farms CEO Ron Foster with a commemorative key to the city Tuesday night.
The company was recognized for its 75th anniversary during a special meeting at the City Council chamber.
Foster said he’s grateful for the support of the Livingston community, especially amid a salmonella outbreak and cockroach infestation that shut down the plant for days sending nearly 3,000 employees home without pay.
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“I think when things like what’s happened in the last eight months occur it impacts not only the employees, but also the community,” Foster said. “Once this happened, we took a multihurdle approach to controlling salmonella. We now believe we are the best in class with salmonella control.”
Foster also credited the Livingston plant’s employees for their hard work and loyalty. Many of them come from families that have worked multiple generations for the company.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do is treat all our employees like family,” Foster said. “Our people are what make us successful day in and day out. Our family feels very blessed to have their support.”
Foster shot down rumors that the Foster Farms plant would someday leave the Livingston area, saying his family has never given any thought to relocating.
Samra said the company, which rakes in an estimated $2 billion in annual revenue, is a huge economic engine for Livingston and the entire county. “When you put something like that into a small community it has a huge impact,” he said.
Espinoza agreed, saying he’s watched Foster Farms continue to grow and flourish over the years.
“I don’t think we could be here without them. The city couldn’t survive without Foster Farms,” the mayor said. “Foster Farms built this city and supports the county tremendously.”
Livingston City Manager Jose Ramirez said Foster Farms also gives back to the community. For example, Ramirez said, the company funded the first American Leadership Forum for Merced County, a program that offers training for community leaders each year.
Ramirez said this type of leadership training, now in its fourth year, is “much needed” in the Central Valley.
“Ron Foster is the individual that has put (up) funding to start this thing and keep it going,” Ramirez said. “If it was not for his continued support and dedication, this program would not have gotten off the ground.”
Kathy Halsey, the program’s senior director, said the program helps a diverse group of people work together to have “meaningful conversations” to strengthen communities. The Great Valley Chapter includes Merced, Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.
“The people who are in the room may not normally interact with each other,” Halsey said. “It’s building new, meaningful relationships and developing skills as leaders to learn how to collaborate in new ways.”
Foster Farms has also contributed money for Livingston’s annual fireworks and to build a new police station, city officials said.