One of the interesting stealth trends in economic development is the preponderance of food processing among target industries, especially on the regional or state level. (There also seems to be a preponderance of “foodies” among the E.D. pros, although that may just be a happy coincidence. You know who you are.)

In one state in which I’ve worked a lot, all of the regions list some variation of food processing, agribusiness, or beverage as a target industry. And why not? Nearly every region of the U.S. is known for local food and beverage specialties, from the distilleries in Kentucky to the row crops in South Carolina, the cheese and beer in Wisconsin, and the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables from Florida to California.

One opportunity that is here for the long term is economic developers helping producers and farmers add value to their output, whether that is timber, milk, crops, etc. Here is short list of some recent initiatives:

  • In the Southeast, a regional EDO is taking steps to make it feasible for producers and farmers to add more value to the agriculture within its region, rather than to ship most goods outside the region or overseas for further processing.  This will help prompt new producers to add value to their production, as well as to accelerate the efforts of those who have already started down this path.
  • In the Northwest, a third generation dairy farm family is developing a business plan for expanding its operations from crops and milk production to the manufacturing of value-added dairy products such as fluid milk, ice cream, and cheese.  The plan will make the family much less reliant on the few big raw milk buyers in the region, employ a dozen people, and provide an opportunity for agri-tourism for in the region as well.
  • In the Midwest, a team of technical, business plan, and marketing expert assisted more than 200 dairy businesses over a seven-year period.  Collectively, these companies invested tens of millions of dollars into new plants or plant expansions, introduced dozens of new dairy products to the world, and hired hundreds of employees.

AS I SEE IT, most communities, especially the rural ones, have an agricultural story to tell.  Sometimes, the impact of agribusiness is overlooked by the locals.  For the economic developers who are aware, this is a great opportunity for long-term investment and growth, if you can assist in adding value to the agricultural operations.

INTERESTED IN THIS TOPIC? See Janet and other food sector specialists speak about local food trends and economic development at the IEDC Spring Conference, taking place June 1-3 in Minneapolis-St Paul.