UPDATE, Thursday, 10:30 a.m.:
Umpqua Bank External Communications Manager Kurt Heath this morning sent the following statement:
We appreciate the concern of local leaders and have spoken with Representative Huffman’s office, as well as reached out to Mr. Adair to address his questions.
Umpqua works very hard to support customers through challenges, and foreclosure is the last resort only after all reasonable options have been exhausted. In this case, our efforts have spanned several years and many attempts to find a solution.
We are committed to working with the local community and doing our part to ensure a proper transition of the property. We also remain committed to Humboldt County and continuing to support its businesses and communities.
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Time may be running out on the Loleta Cheese Factory, but it’s not for lack of friends in high places.
Rep. Jared Huffman, our man in the House of Representatives, yesterday sent a letter (on official letterhead of the U.S. Congress) to Umpqua Bank President and CEO Cort O’Haver, telling him that the foreclosure and auction scheduled for Friday would have “long-term consequences for the region.”
“Loleta Cheese Factory has been in this location for 37 years,” Huffman writes. “Its popular cheeses are known throughout California and beyond. … It is also part of the local dairy industry which forms the character of the area and the factory is a favorite tourist destination of many traveling the U.S. Highway 101 corridor.”
Huffman asks that the bank “work toward a mutual solution” to save the beloved, if debt-ridden, local institution.
Also yesterday, Humboldt County Director of Economic Development Scott Adair sent an email to Umpqua Vice President Debbie Fish, saying, “[T]he County of Humboldt and other community stakeholders have a vested interest in seeing that the Loleta Cheese brand survive a foreclosure action, and that any future operations under the Loleta Cheese label (whether under existing or new ownership) remain in Humboldt County.”
Adair told the Outpost by phone this afternoon that the county had not heard back from Fish or anyone else at Umpqua’s Portland headquarters. “I called and left her a follow-up voice message,” Adair said. “And a local contact assured us it is Debbie Fish who is the person we need to go through.
”What’s frustrating,” he continued, “is that they [Umpqua] will get pennies on the dollar on any of those assets if they go to auction and trustee sale.” He believes the county and other agencies working behind the scenes may be able to arrange a solution that would save the bank money. “We’re continuing to keep the pressure on,” Adair said.
As for the owners, they’re not giving up either. Reached by phone this morning, Loleta Cheese Factory co-owner Bob Laffranchi said he was hoping for a call from the bank last night, but it didn’t come.
Yet he remained upbeat, saying the local community has shown wonderful support.
“Yesterday we had an incredible turnout of folks coming in, wanting to see how they could help,” he said. “Some were buying sandwiches and wishing us well. Sometimes that’s a lot more valuable than any money.”
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said many potential options are being explored. For example, local dairymen may be interested in taking over the business as a cooperative to keep the operation Humboldt-based.
But foreclosure looms, and thus far there’s been no indication that Umpqua Bank is amenable to granting a pardon.
Click here to read a pdf copy of Congressman Huffman’s letter.
The email from Adair is reproduced below:
Hello, Ms. Fish.
My name is Scott Adair. I am the Director of Economic Development for the County of Humboldt. I am writing you today on behalf of the County of Humboldt’s office of Economic Development. Our office is aware of the pending foreclosure action against Artisan Cheese Factory (dba Loleta Cheese). Our office has also learned that a trustee sale and auction is scheduled to occur this Friday.
Please note that small and local brands remain important to the vitality of Humboldt County (and its residents). Local entrepreneurship and small business endeavors also remain an integral part of our county’s history and cultural identity.
That said, the County of Humboldt and other community stakeholders have a vested interest in seeing that the Loleta Cheese brand survive a foreclosure action, and that any future operations under the Loleta Cheese label (whether under existing or new ownership) remain in Humboldt County.
Furthermore, please note that the mitigation of job loss and the protection of industries unique to Humboldt is embodied our county’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). This is why County of Humboldt Economic Development staff is presently working with partner agencies to vet out possible solutions for this matter. For instance, yesterday (in the late afternoon) an emergency meeting took place which included participation from the North Coast Small Business Development Center (SBDC); Redwood Region Economic Development Commission (RREDC); Arcata Economic Development Corporation (AEDC); and also Redwood Coast Rural Action (RCRA). Ideas were discussed at this meeting however the full development and exploration of solutions does take time.
It is my hope that Umpqua would take advantage of any opportunity for collaboration with our (and other) agencies, and that Umpqua would give the County of Humboldt, its residents, and our partner agencies ample time to discuss and explore options for protecting its workers, and for vetting out means by which we may work together to keep local brands within our community.
I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss this matter with you (and in further detail) at your earliest convenience.
Scott Adair | Director of Economic Development
County of Humboldt - Economic Development