America has never had a bigger appetite for fresh food, and right now Northwest Ohio is taking the lead in satisfying that hunger.
In 2015, the food and beverage industry in Northwest Ohio attracted more than $210 million in capital investment and created 400 new jobs.
“We have focused on food the past year,” says Dean Monske, president and CEO of the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP), the economic development organization for Greater Toledo and Northwest Ohio. “The largest Campbell Soup manufacturing plant in North America is here. Food processing is one of our five target industry sectors, and we stick to our strengths.”
Northwest Ohio is making its strength in agribusiness stronger. RGP is taking a lead role in marketing a site certification program spearheaded by American Electric Power. Five sites in Northwest Ohio have been certified for the food and beverage sector, and RGP has developed a proactive plan to market them to end-users and site consultants.
By targeting the top 100 food production companies and the top site consultants across the US, RGP hopes to add to its growing footprint in agribusiness. It’s a footprint that includes such luminaries as Campbell’s, Heinz, Smucker’s, Bob Evans Farms, ConAgra Foods and The Andersons. More than 12,000 people in Northwest Ohio are employed in food processing and agribusiness, and the region’s assets are well documented:
A Bumper Crop of Raw Materials
Established businesses in the region extol these virtues and others. Dave Parcher, vice president of manufacturing for the Napoleon, Ohio, plant and agricultural operations for Campbell’s, says, “the large presence of agriculture, water supply and available labor” make Northwest Ohio the perfect home for Campbell Soup. “If you look at our plants and where they are located, you’ll see that they are all situated on major transportation byways in this region. That’s because we identified the optimal locations for our facilities before we chose the sites.”
He adds that “a great workforce, our relationships with local colleges and universities, and a great history of partnership with RGP” are pivotal factors in Campbell’s continued growth in the region. Operating in Northwest Ohio since the 1940s, the company employs 1,383 workers in the region today and takes in roughly 800,000 pounds of fresh vegetables per day, with the vast majority of that grown locally.
Steve Hirzel, president and CEO of Hirzel Canning Company & Farms, says his company has been in business in Northwest Ohio for 93 years and has no plans to leave. “We are here because this area produces a sustainable, reliable and cost-effective supply of our main ingredients — tomatoes and cabbage and peppers,” he says. “That is a real advantage for us in the marketplace. We have three plants in Northwest Ohio, and each one is located within 10 miles of our crops. We buy from 30-plus growers here.”
Hirzel notes that “logistics-wise, it works well when the plant is located close to the quality of food product that’s harvested in this part of Ohio. We employ 130 full-time employees, but we balloon to a workforce of 350 during harvest season.”
Hirzel advises executives at food firms in other parts of the country to take a closer look at Northwest Ohio. “The tax structure, cost of living, work ethic and mid-America sense of place that you find here are extraordinary,” he says. “It’s also a great place to raise your children to be productive citizens.”
Site Data Will Inform End-Users
Tim Wells, manager of economic and business development for AEP Ohio, says that RGP’s aggressive marketing of the new certified sites will enable the region to further capitalize on its existing assets. The five sites with certification are located in Tiffin, Findlay, Lima, Bucyrus and Van Wert.
“We engaged Austin Consulting to identify sites that are suitable for food processing,” says Wells. “The sites must be 20 acres minimum and be fully served with sewer and water capacities plus other available utilities including electricity. Logistics are obviously important too, and water capacity is a big differentiator. The goal of this program was to find sites that are the most ready for food and beverage processing. We did that.”
Gary Thompson, executive vice president and chief operating officer for RGP, says that RGP is developing a comprehensive website around the certified sites with data to supply essential information to consultants and companies.
He notes that RGP is involved with partners such as CSX, Norfolk Southern Railroad and others to get the word out. “We want the consultants and the companies to know about CIFT,” he says. “They are known for helping startup food companies. CIFT helps people develop their ideas. They have a test kitchen. They are tied in with everyone in the food business. And they can help you find the right equipment.”
Thompson adds that “we’re not trying to mass market ourselves to everyone, but we are getting a favorable response. We have the goods; we just have to let people know.”