BY TIM MCCABE | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Oregon has been recognized as an ideal location for manufacturers of all kinds, and recently we’ve seen particular success with companies involved in food processing. Whether it’s a 30-person operation producing artisan, organic raviolis (Classic Foods – Portland) for Northwest restaurants or a potato processor in eastern Oregon making french-fries for consumers around the world (ConAgra), Oregon is the place to be in the food business.
In 2012, 940 food and beverage companies, employing 28,500 Oregonians, produced goods valued at $8.5 billion. In addition to these existing manufacturers, we are working with companies from France, the United Kingdom, China and Japan that are looking to locate facilities here in Oregon.
There are at least four good reasons for their interest:
First is Oregon’s close proximity to the huge California market and its 38 million consumers.
Second, Oregon’s transportation infrastructure with good access along the western U.S., and the Port of Portland and its easy connection to the Pacific Rim for exports.
Third, we grow a lot of products that manufacturers can add value to, especially in the Willamette, Hood River and Rogue River valleys. Much of Oregon’s 220 different agricultural commodities can be used by food processors to create new products.
Finally, we have a highly trained and skilled workforce and a competitive business climate. Food processing plants operated by Bridgetown Natural Foods, Pacific Natural Foods and NORPAC employ state-of-the-art technology and workers who are among the best-trained anywhere in the nation.
Success stories abound across the food processing sector in Oregon. Amy’s Kitchen, the natural foods producer located near Medford is a great illustration of how a long-term partnership can pay off for Oregonians.
The company recently completed its latest expansion — a $19 million project expected to create at least 70 new jobs and push the company’s White City workforce to more than 800 employees by early 2014. The company chose to expand in Oregon rather than South Carolina primarily due to our proximity to organic food growers.
Amy’s Kitchen expanded into southern Oregon in 2006 to open a new, $60 million production facility, thanks in part to a $375,000 forgivable loan from the Governor's Strategic Reserve Fund.
In the summer of 2012, the company embarked on its latest project, a $9 million expansion resulting in a 50% increase in the company's production capacity for its frozen food entrée line.
The production capacity increase came upon the heels of the company's construction of a new 140,000-square-foot warehouse and an addition to an existing frozen foods warehouse. Those projects were completed in April 2012.
Amy’s Kitchen was one of the exhibitors joining Business Oregon recently as we led a team from Oregon to three food industry trade shows to market the state. Oregon had a dominant presence at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, with 55 Oregon exhibitors displaying their wares and connecting with potential customers from around the world. Exhibitors included The Better Bean Company, Kettle Foods, Inc. and Betty Lou's — all of whom Business Oregon has partnered with successfully in the past.
At such trade shows, Oregon has emerged as one of the leading homes for specialty and natural food producers. Natural food leaders such as Betty Lou’s (McMinnville), Pacific Natural Foods (Tualatin) as well as Portland-based Bridgetown Natural, Classic Foods and Better Bean are fast pushing us to the top. In addition, Oregon is becoming better known for high-quality, specialty foods such as Moonstruck Chocolates, Rogue Creamery cheeses, Frog Eyes Wasabi and Stumptown Coffee.
Throw in Oregon’s top notch breweries, wineries and distillers and the industry has delivered a bounty of economic benefits for Oregonians.
Tim McCabe is the Director of Business Oregon.