Shirley Leung

No one likes being laid off, but a low jobless rate makes Necco workers hot commodities

The Necco factory in Revere.
The Necco factory in Revere.CJ GUNTHER/EPA/Shutterstock

Here’s how strong the Massachusetts economy is: As word spread that the Necco candy factory in Revere was abruptly shuttered Tuesday, leaving hundreds without jobs, companies around the region scrambled to recruit the newly laid-off workers.

Prospective employers have been reaching out to the state and the City of Revere to talk about the positions they have and how they can set up interviews. Some are even thinking about greeting workers on site Friday as they return to the Revere plant to collect their last paychecks and belongings.

No one likes to lose a job, but with the state unemployment rate at an incredibly low 3.5 percent, employers are struggling to hire workers, particularly those with experience in the food industry.


Within hours of learning of the Necco closure, Dan Doherty, director of operations at Kelly’s Roast Beef, contacted Revere City Hall to find out how he can track down the candy workers.

The company, which runs four restaurants and a food truck, has at least 20 openings — from prep workers to cooks to managers.

“We can give a bunch of interviews, and I’m sure we can hire a bunch of people,” Doherty said.

When I told him many workers are immigrants who only speak Spanish, Doherty didn’t flinch.

“We have translators in the business. That wouldn’t be an issue,” he said.

Doherty then proceeded to give the hard sell on why former Necco workers should come to Kelly’s, a family business that has been around for six decades. He recounted his own story of working his way up, from behind the counter making onion rings to his current position as vice president.

“We treat our people well,” said Doherty, who has been with Kelly’s since 1979. “It’s a great company.”

Roger Berkowitz, chief executive of Legal Sea Foods, woke up Wednesday to the news of the Necco shutdown and seized on the opportunity to hire workers with food experience.


He reached out to his chief operating officer, Ann Marie Escobar, as well as to Patrick Keefe, Legal’s culinary director, who is also a Revere city councilor. By 8 a.m., a recruiting plan had been hatched.

“This is how tight the job market is in Massachusetts” is how Berkowitz explained why he had to act quickly. “A lot of jobs are unfilled.”

Berkowitz, whose company runs restaurants and a seafood processing plant in South Boston, estimates he has about 45 openings. About 10 to 15 are in the production plant, and the rest are at the restaurants, ranging from dishwashers to cooks. He also has jobs in the warehouse and on the mail-order side. And yes, Spanish-speakers are welcome.

Berkowitz thinks the Necco workers got a raw deal from Round Hill Investments, which purchased the bankrupt candy maker for $17.3 million at an emergency auction in May. Round Hill had agreed to keep the Revere factory open until at least November, but closed it on Tuesday after selling Necco to a company that has yet to be disclosed.

“These folks could use a lesson in corporate ethics,” Berkowitz said.

The state has sent in a rapid-response team to help displaced workers find new jobs. New England Confectionery Co. — which makes Necco wafers and Sweethearts — had given the state notice in March that 395 workers could be laid off if the struggling candy maker did not find a buyer.


The state’s economic development secretary, Jay Ash, is confident the workers will land on their feet.

“It is a time in our economy that anyone looking for a job can find one,” he said. “Half the businesses I talk to have openings.”

Among those companies with gobs of openings is Encore Boston Harbor. The Everett casino doesn’t open until June, but recruiting is underway to fill 4,500 jobs — including 800 at the hotel, 1,400 in food service, and 1,600 on the casino floor.

The next job fair is Aug. 8 at the Connolly Center in Everett, but Encore would consider holding a special one for Necco workers if that’s something they want.

“We would love to meet them,” said Greg John, an Encore spokesman. “The issue is timing. A lot of these jobs won’t start until early next year.”

Unable to reach anyone at Necco on Wednesday, prospective employers began calling Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo and his administration. By day’s end, it was hard to keep track of the growing list of companies looking to hire Necco workers:

Greater Lynn Senior Services (50 to 60 drivers), Great Eastern Seafood (10 to 15 positions), Five Way Foods (six food-production workers), Winfrey’s Fudge & Chocolates (three to five production jobs), ServPro (six to eight positions), Easy Pie, and Shaw’s.

If you’ve got jobs too, here’s the number to Mayor Arrigo: 781-286-8111.

Thanks to a white-hot economy, Necco workers may find themselves with a sweet ending, after all.


Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.