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Cornelius farm in danger of closure

Zelenka Farms selling Cornelius operation; 50 jobs at risk

There might be fewer flowers — and jobs — in Cornelius soon. Zelenka Farms, a national botanical corporation whose farms grow plants for sale in chain and hardware stores, is up for sale, including its 361-acre facility in the Cornelius area. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: RYAN LACKEY - Located on Chalmers road north of Forest Grove and Cornelius, Zelenka Farms might soon be no more.

“We had a shortfall on sales in May,” said Zelenka Farms CEO Eric Ek. “The banks said they wouldn’t fund us through next year,” and so Zelenka is selling off everything: the farms, the land, the inventory. An auction is planned for Aug. 11 in Dallas, Texas, where Zelenka Farms is based. In total, Zelenka operates six farms throughout the U.S., but the Cornelius farm is the only one west of Texas.

“There’re a number of interested buyers,” said Ek, “and we’re hoping to keep the business together. We can expect a new owner by August 31.”

That means a nervous few weeks for Zelenka’s 62 workers in its western Washington County location. Berry Nurseries, as it's also known, is located on Chalmers Lane north of Cornelius proper, where it has operated since 2006. Ek said he expects the buyer likely will continue the farm operation and keep the staff employed, but it’s not a guarantee.

“It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for a buyer to gut everything,” Ek said. “We have 2.6 million units in storage,” which would make liquidation difficult.

Cornelius city manager Rob Drake confirmed that the city had received notice from the company that at least 50 jobs are in danger.

“It’s federal law,” said Drake. “Whenever more than 50 jobs might be cut, they have to let us know.” Drake expressed surprise at the closure, noting that the economy is generally on the rise, but also said he had little interaction with the business.

“They have a Cornelius mailing address,” said Drake, “but all their operations are pretty far out of town.”

One buyer, said Ek, is interested in purchasing the entire company, including the Cornelius farm. The other buyers want single farms, and Ek confirmed that there’s one local prospective buyer in Cornelius.

“It’s still confidential, so I can’t name anyone,” said Ek. “But there is one local buyer who’s interested.”

No matter what, the Cornelius farm will operate through September 9 and Ek said even if the buyer dissolves the company, there will be work to do for a while afterwards, taking care of plants as they’re sold and transported.

“People are nervous,” said Ek. “But I totally expect the buyer to continue the farm.”