Collaboration with Communities Helps Food Processors Flourish
By Rachel Duran
Food processing firms looking for ways to gain competitive advantages search for locations that offer a combination of business must haves, as well as opportunities to think and act creatively. They also need interaction with community leaders who are responsive to their business needs, able to actively assist in getting a project running in compressed time frames, and partners who will be just as responsive long after the initial location.
A common example of community support includes certified shovel-ready sites; where up front site preparation and due diligence has been completed, clearing the way for a project to quickly move forward.
Other tools include online calculators that allow users to conduct analysis by entering information about companies and projects, resulting in real-time data. These calculators feature data on state and local taxes, the workforce, and helpful business climate facts. Users can print or download these custom reports. “It is a nice way to articulate what the costs are going to be,” says James Otterstein, economic development manager, Rock County (Wis.) Development Alliance. The community offers an online calculator at its website, www.rockcountyready.com. “It provides raw data and also value-added information such as projections looking forward in terms of things that are in the queue or have been established by the state legislature.”
Rock County is also among the communities that offer online building portfolios that feature predesigned footprints for industrial and commercial buildings. Rock County’s program includes six predesigned facilities, ranging in size from 59,000 square feet to 700,000 square feet. Modifications are easily completed, such as the addition of dock doors or an increase in ceiling heights. “If you need to make adjustments we can turn it around in 24 hours, with full building plans available for review,” Otterstein says of Rock County’s program. The county is located in south central Wisconsin on the Illinois border.
“These buildings have been optimized for our properties and are compliant with local and state building codes,” Otterstein notes. “We are Wisconsin’s first and only community to have entire industrial parks certified by a third party;” in this case Ady-Austin. Additionally, sites from Rock County will be part of the state of Wisconsin’s real estate certification program, which was scheduled to debut this fall. “What will be unique is that we will be part of the state mix; however, our previous certification covers more than a single site because it applies to entire parks,” Otterstein says.
An inventory of available and ready to go sites and facilities is imperative, but also essential is quality infrastructure such as access to an abundance of water and waste water, competitively priced utilities, an experienced workforce and proximity to commodities. Where does the quality of a place factor in? Life and work balance doesn’t just apply to the tech industry.
For example, if your brand is to equate healthy food products with a healthy lifestyle, siting to a community associated with strong outdoor amenities and active lifestyles may fill the requirement. In Roanoke, Va., food processing companies will find a fusing of the great outdoors and the production of healthy foods.
“You can’t find this everywhere,” says Beth Doughty, executive director, Roanoke Regional Partnership. “We are the crossroads of outdoors in Virginia; there is a very active lifestyle here whether you are into hiking, mountain or rode biking, paddling, sailing — there are lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation.” That is because of access to recreational assets such as the Blue Ridge Mountains and multiple bodies of water. The regional partnership markets Alleghany Botetourt, Franklin and Roanoke counties; and the cities of Roanoke and Salem, and the town of Vinton.
The bodies of water create excess water capacities, more than enough to support food processing companies. Doughty says the region uses 33 million gallons per day of its available water capacity, which is 55 million gallons. What’s more, sewer capacity will support another 20 million gallons per day of discharge. Another bonus is the lack of surcharges. “There are liberal limits on effluence, and pretreatment is not needed in most cases, which means more value,” Doughty notes.
In addition to the significant water and sewer capacities, the Roanoke region offers a low cost structure for conducting business and living. The region is also the core of the commercial area in western Virginia, with a service area of influence that extends to 1 million people.
Doughy says the region’s location is ideal to support the logistics needs of industry. Located on Interstate 81, the community is equidistant between New York and Atlanta, and within a day’s truck drive from two-thirds of the U.S. population. Food processing companies calling the Roanoke region home include Maple Leaf Foods USA Inc., which is the largest Canadian food producer; Mennel Milling Co., which supplies flour to Maple Leaf’s bakery, as well as other bakeries; wineries; Homestead Creamery Inc., which sells its dairy products throughout the East Coast; and bottling plants for both Pepsi and Coca-Cola. “We are also home to a variety of meat product producers, from sausages to monogram foods,” Doughty adds.
Skilled Workforce Required; Quality Infrastructure Mandatory
When in need of workforce training assistance, Roanoke’s food processing companies work closely with the region’s community college system, which includes Skyline College and the Greenfield Education and Training Center.
Moving west to Arkansas, the Jonesboro region has been progressive in working with its food processing companies to understand and meet their needs. “We have a workforce training consortium to meet the needs of our clients today and in the future,” says Mark Young, president and CEO, Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce. He adds: “The director of the workforce development program is located in our office and works with our existing companies and prospective companies to ensure our workforce will meet business needs.”
Food processing companies in Jonesboro find a talent base well trained in the food and beverage industry, as well as available properties. The Craighead Technology Park, where many of the community’s food companies are located, was built in anticipation of providing service to food processing companies. “There are 18-inch water lines and waste water lines in place,” Young says. The 1,500-acre park has 750 acres currently available for development.
Food processing firms have benefitted from Jonesboro’s low costs of conducting business, its history in agricultural-related activities, and its northeast location in the state of Arkansas. Firms calling Jonesboro home include Riceland Foods Inc.; Frito Lay; Nestlé USA products, which produces frozen foods; Butterball LLC and Post Foods LLC. “Post Foods recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in Jonesboro,” Young says. “I was impressed with the number of people who started at the plant 20 years ago and are still working there.”
In regard to workforce development and training in Rock County, the large presence of food processing companies has created a wealth of resources to facilitate or augment industry’s needs. Food processing companies located in Rock County include Seneca Foods Corp., Cargill Inc., Hormel Foods LLC, Diamond Foods Inc., MacFarlane Pheasants Inc., Frito Lay, Fontana Flavors Inc., the DeLong Co., H.B. Specialty Foods, and Kerry Inc. North America, among others.
Otterstein says these companies also benefit from the region’s transportation system, which includes interstates 39, 90 and 43, rail access, and access to a 24/7 all-weather airport, the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport, to support just-in-time requirements. What’s more, the community is one hour and 15 minutes from both Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport.
For food processing firms undertaking expansion plans, consider not only infrastructure, experienced workforces, and costs of doing business, but also community officials who are ready to assist you in meeting needs and overcoming any challenges you might run across. Look for communities that are proactive, for example, those that conduct site prep and certification of sites and buildings. And don’t overlook the quality of life found in a community, which assists the workforce in achieving the balance between work and life that they seek.
For complete details on the organizations featured in this article, visit:
Jonesboro (Ark.) Regional Chamber of Commerce, www.jonesborochamber.com
Roanoke (Va.) Regional Partnership, www.roanoke.org
Rock County (Wis.) Development Alliance, www.rockycountyready.com