Tillamook cheese is a familiar Northwest favorite. In the long term, the company hopes to make itself better known around the country.
Closer to home, Tillamook has a century-old reputation for supporting farmers, providing lasting jobs in the community and generating plenty of tourism activity. The cheese factory alone draws more than 1 million visitors each year, sampling some 30,000 pounds of cheese annually and selling close to 3,000 ice cream cones and dishes each day during the peak summer months.
“Tillamook is the hub for the whole county,” says Suzanne Weber, mayor of Tillamook.
Which is partly why news of employee layoffs in early 2012 stung so badly. Last February the association cut nearly 50 packaging positions from its facility to reduce transportation costs. Up until then, about half of Tillamook’s cheese had been made at a factory in Boardman, trucked to Tillamook for aging, shipped to Idaho for shredding, slicing and packaging, sent back to Tillamook to be warehoused and, eventually, distributed to customers. By outsourcing to two facilities in Idaho and Utah that cut, package and distribute the cheese, Tillamook aimed to save millions, according to then-CEO Strunk.
The news hit hard in Tillamook. Vitriolic comments and accusations of a sellout sprouted up in response to media stories. Someone started a Facebook page called “I used to buy Tillamook Cheese when it was made in Tillamook” in protest.
But the initial flare-up seemed to cool off, and many viewed the job losses not as a one-time hit but as one more layer of the region’s larger economic troubles.
“We had already lost a lot of jobs in the public sector, which made a pretty big impact here as well,” Weber says. “The cheese factory is one of the major employers, but I can’t say that I can see that [the layoffs] have resulted in a loss of business downtown or anything like that. Small towns like this are just the last to recover from a bad economy.”
That said, Weber says she thinks there’s room for Tillamook to become more involved with the greater community, and to use its clout and appeal to help revitalize what used to be a much more energetic city.
“When I moved here 30 years ago, every business was full, but that vibrant flow of energy has gone away,” she says. “We are working hard to engage the cheese factory to work with us.”