BELFAST — Gov. Mills visited the scene of the massive fire that destroyed the Penobscot McCrum potato processing plant on Pierce St. With her was Department of Community and Economic Development Commissioner Heather Johnson. Mills and McCrum CEO Jay McCrum spoke to reporters.

McCrum expressed gratitude for the support the company has received in the wake of the fire, calling Fire Chief Patrick Richards “phenomenal,” and praising the efforts of all the firefighters who worked through the early morning hours and all day to battle the blaze.

He said the company was a six-generation family firm and he hoped to come back from the disaster. The company has 138 employees, and is the only small, family-owned potato processor in the United States, he said. It gets all its potatoes from Maine growers.

Mills told how her grandfather had been a potato farmer, adding that it was important to keep the processing of the state’s crop in Maine. She pledged to help McCrum come back from the loss with transitional funding, as well as dispatching a Rapid Response Team from the Department of Labor to assist employees.

“We want them (McCrum) to stay here,” she said.

City Manager Erin Herbig to The Republican Journal Thursday afternoon that the City Council had approved taking money from the city’s Keep the Faith Fund, begun in 2020 in response to the pandemic, to provide $100 Hannaford gift cards to all the employees. The city worked with McCrum Human Resources Director Dana McCrum to have the gift cards inserted in employees’ paychecks Thursday.

She added that the city has asked residents who want to do something to help McCrum’s employees to donate to the Keep the Faith Fund to help with rent relief and other assistance they may need. Already $4,000 has been pledged, she said. Donations may be made at https://gofund.me/5c5ffcfc.

According to a press release from the governor’s office Thursday afternoon, the Maine Department of Labor has connected with employees and will be onsite at Workforce Solutions/Goodwill Workforce Services at 15 Starrett Drive, Suite F, in Belfast next week, in addition to providing virtual sessions. In-person services will be available Monday – Friday, from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 1 – 4:30 p.m. Workforce Solutions can be contacted at 930-7047. Affected workers may also reach out to the CareerCenter for assistance, at 623-7981.

Asked what he wanted his employees to know, McCrum said, “We really love them, care for them, and want them to stay in touch.” He promised to make sure all employees were taken care of.

He added that he has already met with his business partners and a team will come in next week to assess the situation and decide how to proceed.