Ever wondered how that mouth-watering bowl of Campbell’s Soup made it to your dining room table? Or how those creamy Bob Evans mashed potatoes got whipped into the perfect blend?
Well, wonder no more. Many people in Northwest Ohio collaborated to provide the perfect set of ingredients for your dinner, and their secret recipe is … a certified site for food processing.
Yep, that’s right. Before you ever opened that package and cooked your meal, the people who made these best-selling foods needed the optimal place for creating them. With the help of American Electric Power, Austin Consulting and the Regional Growth Partnership, that place was found in Northwest Ohio.
In what is believed to be America’s first certified sites program dedicated to the food and beverage sector (shovelreadysites.info), this shovel-ready initiative — the brainchild of AEP Ohio and Austin — was launched recently by Toledo-based RGP and is already paying huge dividends.
“The advantages for food processors are enormous,” says Gary Thompson, executive vice president and chief operating officer of RGP. “Extra work goes into ensuring water and sewer availability to these sites. You know right away that you are getting a good site and there will be no surprises. It helps your project move faster. Plus, you’re coming into a thriving agribusiness ecosystem in Northwest Ohio with an existing supply chain and highly qualified workforce.”
Campbell’s is a believer. The makers of the soup that’s “mmm, mmm, good” scooped up one of RGP’s five certified sites and is now constructing a $44-million distribution center in Findlay, Ohio. Operated by DHL Supply Chain, the 750,000-sq.-ft. facility will be completed next spring, serve the company’s growing number of e-commerce patrons, and employ 220 workers.
“We’ve had a strong presence in Northwest Ohio for a number of years with two manufacturing plants in the region,” says Jim Prunesti, vice president of global engineering for Campbell Soup Company. “We looked at a number of different locations in Indiana and Ohio. These are not decisions that we make lightly. These are long-term decisions. We liked RGP’s certified sites program because it offers advantages in the development process. It leads to a shorter development time window and a lower risk and cost exposure. And it is part of a broader master plan for the region.”
Prunesti adds that working with JobsOhio, RGP and the Findlay-Hancock County EDC made the deal easier to close. “They’re all fantastic to work with,” he notes. “About 20 folks at different agencies met with us and were our partners in the process, from DOT and planning to the port authority. They were there to be collaborative.”
A strong transportation and logistics hub along Interstate 75 and U.S. Highway 30 was pivotal to site selection, Prunesti says. “Rail support is here as well. The community is a true partner with us. That’s why we’re here.”
Belgian manufacturer deSter Corp. followed suit by moving into an existing building in Lima, Ohio, after considering a certified site. A packager for Bob Evans, deSter is bringing 70 jobs to Northwest Ohio and is one of many international firms expanding in the region.
“Bob Evans has expanded here a couple of times, most recently with a $40-million project,” notes Jeff Sprague, president and CEO of the Allen Economic Development Group in Lima and Allen County. “Lakeview Farms did a $12-million expansion and added 200 new jobs.”
A certified site in Allen County is part of the program: a 53-acre parcel in Gateway Commerce Park on I-75 and S.R. 65 about 80 miles south of Toledo.
The remaining certified sites include a 59-acre tract in Vision Industrial Park in Van Wert; a 38-acre parcel in Eagle Rock Business Park in Tiffin; and a 22-acre site in Crossroads Industrial Center in Bucyrus.
Over the last three years, food processors have invested $578 million in Northwest Ohio, creating 1,637 jobs and bringing total employment in food and beverages to 12,000-plus in the region. Smucker’s, Heinz and ConAgra are among the big-name brands that continue to grow in Northwest Ohio.
“The food-and-beverage sector fits AEP’s and RGP’s targets,” says Tim Wells, manager of economic and business development for AEP Ohio. “Austin Consulting had a well-developed program. We engaged them through RGP to start narrowing down the sites that might fit. The goal is to reduce the risk for the client and help them get to market sooner.”
The process was rigorous, Wells notes. “We looked for sites that were most ready,” he says. “We started off with 10 sites. Austin took on the pre-qualification work. Of those 10, there were five that could make it through the rest of the program and meet all qualifications.”
“We liked RGP’s certified sites program because it offers advantages in the development process. It leads to a shorter development time window and a lower risk and cost exposure.”
Frank Spano, managing director of Austin Consulting in Cleveland, says that certified sites must have ample supplies of electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater treatment service and other essential utilities. They also must be free of environmental contaminants.
“Typically, you will not put a food and beverage operation on a brownfield site,” says Spano. “That increases their risk of contamination. You want a site that does not have a major industrial history. As a result, we look primarily at greenfield sites.”
RGP is hoping that’s a recipe more food companies will like.