Economic development officials to visit California
Access to local product may entice food companies to Oregon
Encouraged by a recent survey of statewide economic development officials, Oregon will look to recruit California companies that might be interested in relocating or expanding. Representatives of several local communities are expected to join specialists from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the Oregon Business Development Department early next year as they participate in a couple of large food shows held in California.
"There is an Oregon-wide level of interest in what's going on with agriculture," says Jerry Gardner, ODA's business development manager. "Of course, a lot of our rural communities depend on agriculture in various ways. Adding more food processing capacity in these rural communities would be a great thing for our overall economic development."
With some Oregon counties facing an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent, local, regional, and state officials are looking at all opportunities to attract industries that create jobs. Food processing often makes sense where agricultural production takes place- and for many Oregon communities, farming and ranching is a large slice of the local economy.
"Not everybody can build a wafer manufacturing plant or a solar manufacturing facility," says Gardner. "So a lot of industries that seem to be in vogue right now don't always work well in some rural communities. But agriculture is always there."
Earlier this year, the leadership of the Oregon Economic Development Association (OEDA) - which is made up of city, county, and regional economic development organizations- surveyed their members on what kind of companies and industries they are most interested in recruiting. An initial list of key industries noted in a survey question did not include agriculture, as the survey was focused on non-agricultural industries. But respondents were asked to identify other industries that are key to their economic development efforts. Agriculture and value-added food processing was at the top of that list.
"Agriculture and food processing got more votes than any other sector, so there are a lot of people out there who would like to focus on how we can expand our food processing capacity," says Gardner.
The survey also asked a specific question about using trade show participation as a part of planned business recruitment activities in the coming year. A majority of respondents indicated they would include trade shows as part of their strategy.
The survey results prompted OEDA, the Oregon Business Development Department (Business Oregon), and ODA to develop a plan to seek out food processors, particularly those from California, through participation in upcoming trade shows. Focusing on Oregon's southern neighbor makes sense.
"First of all, there are a lot of food companies located in California," says Gardner. "Secondly, a different survey conducted by a California firm found that about 40 percent of the businesses asked were planning on moving or expanding their operations outside the state. So there seems to be quite a bit of willingness on the part of companies to look elsewhere because California may not be meeting their needs. We think there is fertile ground to bring a company from California to Oregon."
Two well attended trade shows are being targeted as excellent venues for recruitment. The Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, held in January, will attract more than 17,000 visitors. The 2011 show brought in 348 California companies alone. In March 2012, the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim also attracts a large number of California companies. ODA routinely attends these shows along with many Oregon companies to promote food products. This time, that effort will include recruitment. The plan is for ODA and Business Oregon to set up a State of Oregon booth at both shows and to have representatives do a lot of talking to the companies that attend. The plan is to also have interested local economic development officials from Oregon attend and be part of the recruiting effort, allowing them to make a personal pitch for their own community.
"We are a rural community with a rich and thriving agriculture," says Jody Christensen, director of the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership, who is interested in attending the California shows. "We don't want to pit ourselves against other communities or states, but just want to show companies the benefits of coming to McMinnville. If it makes sound business sense for them to locate here, we happily welcome them."
Other Oregon communities showing interest in recruiting food companies include Forest Grove and SEDCOR- the Strategic Economic Development Corporation- which represents the Mid-Willamette Valley.
"Marion County is Oregon's top ranked agricultural county and we already have some of the best food processors in the state," says SEDCOR's Nick Harville. "There is already a great infrastructure and supply chain for goods and plenty of opportunity for new companies because of the tremendous variety of crops we produce. Manufacturing and construction are important sectors to us, but agriculture still has the biggest impact."
Past efforts to recruit California food companies have had significant success. In 2006, Amy's Kitchen expanded its organic frozen food processing operation to include a major facility in the Medford area. At the time, Governor Kulongoski listed such factors as lower electric power costs, lower workers' compensation costs, and the diversity of local crops as reasons for the company to locate in Oregon and employ around 250 people.
Whether another Amy's Kitchen-type food company decides to jump from California to Oregon remains to be seen. But even if several smaller processors make the move, the upcoming recruiting effort will be worth it.
"We hope we can have some of these companies at least come and visit Oregon, "says ODA's Gardner. "We will show them around, look at different sites, make them aware of all that Oregon has to offer. Of course, these things take time, they don't happen overnight. But you have to start somewhere."
Starting with a couple of major trade shows in early 2012 could be the catalyst.
For more information, contact Jerry Gardner at (503) 872-6608.
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