Coke to leave borough facility

NAUGATUCK — Coca-Cola plans to leave its bottling and distribution center in the Naugatuck Industrial Park by the end of the year.

The company, which has operated at 80 Rado Drive since 2000, plans to change the way it distributes its product, which would require a smaller facility, said Ron Pugliese, CEO of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation.

The company plans to move toward a cross-docking loading practice, which involves unloading products from an inbound trailer and loading them directly onto outbound trucks with little or no storage in between. The company had utilized that practice in its Cheshire facility, where it operated before moving to Naugatuck. The system, made popular by Walmart in the 1980s, is also used by the military.

Real estate developer Bob Scinto, who owns the building in which Coca-Cola operates, said the company wants trucks to back up on one side of the building and load onto the other. He said he’s been in discussions with Coca-Cola executives about converting the building into smaller spaces, but the two sides could not reach a deal.

“We’ve been happy with them as a tenant, and we did all we could to accommodate them,” he said. “It was simply a function of space.”

Scinto, Pugliese and Mayor Robert Mezzo said there are at least two companies already interested in leasing the building when Coca-Cola leaves.

Pugliese said he has been trying to find Coca-Cola a building in Naugatuck that will suit its needs. The company has discussed consolidating operations with its main Connecticut facility in East Hartford, he said.

How the shakeup will affect the company’s roughly 170 Naugatuck employees remains to be seen.

A statement issued by Coca-Cola Co. stated, “Coca-Cola Refreshments continuously seeks ways to optimize our distribution and warehouse network to provide the highest-quality products and best customer service. Given our expiring lease, we believe that we could better serve our customers and maximize our Naugatuck distribution center to a new location as a cross-dock facility.

“We will fulfill all bargaining obligations and ensure as few associates as possible are impacted. We are committed to treating every associate with respect and dignity throughout this process.”

Mezzo said the borough has been in discussions with the company for several months and expressed a desire to “do anything necessary” to meet the company’s needs. Still, he said, the company has not said if there is a building in Naugatuck it is investigating as a possible cross-docking facility.

“It seems to be more of an internal desire by Coca-Cola with the way they dock their trucks rather than any dissatisfaction with the building or the borough,” he said.

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