Ravenna, Dairy Farms Move on After Leprino Closure

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It's been about three months since a Leprino Foods closed its doors in Ravenna, taking around 170 jobs with it.

Though they make about six trailer loads of milk every day, Wolfden Dairy along with other central Nebraska area dairy farms were only making one-third of the milk needed to keep a nearby cheese plant operational.

"That was kind of the problem - the rest of the milk, the two-thirds out of the area was getting shipped quite a distance out of Colorado and Kansas to fill that plant," says Wolfden Dairy owner Steve Wolfe.

While it costs more to send milk to processors in eastern Nebraska, like a powder plant in Norfolk and drinking milk bottler in Omaha, Wolfe says better prices there are offsetting loss.

"Our milk we sell through a co-op, Dairy Farmers of America, and they market our milk wherever it is needed," he says.

Leprino's closure took 170 jobs with it, adding to the nearly 70 that were lost when food packager Schreiber closed earlier in 2013. It's something Ravenna leaders say hurt the community.

"On average a family spends approximately $200 in town locally every week - that adds up over time," says Ravenna Economic Development Director Tiffany Crouse. "If you have ten families that have left the area that can be up to $100,000 if you multiply that in a year."

Crouse, who took over at the Ravenna Economic Development Corporation shortly after Leprino closed, says the city and main street have been working on creating jobs to fill the void and keep people in Ravenna.

"There is something to be said about smaller businesses coming together and really encouraging people to take care of their own and shop local," she says.

Buffalo County Economic Development officials say they would entertain other businesses, but they'd like to get a dairy operation back in Ravenna to keep supporting area farmers. For now they say they are waiting on Leprino to set an asking price for this facility.

"We're just looking forward to whatever door is going to open," says Crouse.

The community has other large employers like Ravenna Public Schools and assisted living facilities.