WASHINGTON, August 5, 2015 – Self-branded as “All Things Food,” a six-county block of rural counties in south central Idaho has welded its array of farm products to a food processing sector in a way that most farming areas only dream of doing.
The region has long been called the “Magic Valley,” a nod to its array of products – cattle, milk, trout, sugar beets, edible beans, peas, barley, alfalfa, mink hides and more. Its profusion supplies the raw materials for a diverse food and biobased manufacturing sector that seems to sprout new agribusiness processing plants, research centers or other facilities monthly.
Though the region’s population is shy of 170,000, its lead rural development engine, the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization (SIEDO), claims it’ll generate nearly $5 billion in agribusiness goods and services – more than half of Idaho’s total – this year, and that level is up to 40 percent more than just two years ago.
Jan Rogers, SIEDO executive director, says her area’s brisk growth starts with its diverse field, forest and water resources. Then, she says, private industries and state and local government agencies readily participate in SIEDO efforts to recruit companies, improve economic infrastructure, job training, and so forth. Plus, she calls SIEDO’s rural development partner in the region, Idaho’s Region IV Development Association (RIVDA), “the best grant writers in the United States,” which ensures a tide of seed and matching money from the Commerce Dept., USDA and other agencies to support both new projects of local agencies and private industry.
“We all work as a regional team,” Rogers said, “we’re strategic, were focused and we branded our region in a way that resonates.”
Laura Johnson, market development chief for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, describes her agency’s networking with SIEDO and its partners similarly: “Teamwork and partnerships are good way of describing the effort here,” she says.
The six counties boast output of 72% of Idaho milk production in a state that passed New York this year as the number three producing dairy state, and food companies are flocking there to set up shop. So look for continued expansion. The huge Greek yogurt, Chobani, built its top production plant – 1 million square feet – in Magic Valley’s city of Twin Falls in 2012. This year, USDA approved Greek yogurt as a high protein dish (50% more protein that regular yogurt) for school lunch menus nationwide, and named Chobani (which agreed to discounted prices) as the main supplier. A USDA staffer says the Farm Service Agency is ordering up the yogurt for the school year’s fall term.
All told, SIEDO’s tallies 22 agribusiness processors locating in or significantly expanding in south central Idaho since 2001. More Magic Valley startups are on the way:
· In Burley, Fabri-Kal Corp., a Michigan firm that makes containers and foodservice items from biobased polylactic acid, expects to crank up its $50 million plant in September.
· Clif Bar & Company, a maker of organic high-energy and protein bars and drinks, is building its first bakery in Twin Falls, to open next spring and hire 200 people.
· PerforMix Nutrition Systems, which makes animal feed supplements in the Pacific Northwest, is erecting a new facility in Rupert to supply that area’s dairies and other cattle feeding operations. It’ll open in February, adding 15 jobs when fulling operating.
· Also in Rupert, Portugal-based Frulact, maker of fruit and dairy products, is preparing to locate its first U.S. facility, a $30 million site, though the company slowed startup plans.
· Note, too, that in July Monsanto opened its new Wheat Technology Center, a vastly expanded lab complex with new greenhouses, where its wheat research work will be centered. The company employs about 1,000 people in Idaho and says the expansion means 20 more Monsanto jobs at the site plus another 17 more contracted workers ,Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership
What’s more, economic expansion breeds more of the same. The U.S. Commerce Department selected the six-county region as one of four top food manufacturing regions for the department’s Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. Rogers says the designation helps her sell the Magic Valley nationally and abroad as industry friendly, but it also boosts her region’s edge for getting future federal grants because the award shows past funding has delivered results.
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