When it comes to having an ideal environment for agribusiness, the Idaho Falls region has all the key ingredients, as evidenced by the successes of several major players in food production and processing here.
“Idaho has always been known for having this perfect triumvirate of growing conditions. The soil, the air, the water … everything seems to come together right here in the Snake River Plain,” says Ralph Schwartz, vice president of sales, marketing and innovation for Idaho Falls-based Potandon Produce. The company is the largest marketer of fresh potatoes in North America and one of the largest marketers of onions.
“We get the right amount of water, and we’re high desert, so we get a lot of sunshine hours and cooler nights, which helps the potato crop bulk up,” Schwartz says.
The climate isn’t the only reason why agribusiness tops every other industry in the state and region, based on sales. Local companies also benefit from the area's knowledgeable and dependable workforce, according to John Heer, vice president of sales and marketing for Golden Valley Natural, the nation's largest producer of all-natural and organic meat snacks. The company employs more than 600 people and recently opened a second plant in Shelley, 8 miles south of its original facility.
“Our employees are loyal, hardworking and good at what they do, and they are proud of the products they make,” Heer says, adding that it is also advantageous to be close to the source of meat for the jerky the company produces, which includes beef, buffalo, turkey, pork and chicken. “We raise a great deal of the meat that we use in our products."
Golden Valley Natural, Potandon and other large, local employers in the industry, such as Idahoan Foods and Anheuser-Busch, also appreciate the region's strong sense of community.
“This part of the country lends itself well to families, and our employees really enjoy living here,” Heer says.
“It’s a combination of native Idahoans and transplants, like myself, who have created a cohesive community unit,” Potandon's Schwartz says. “People are friendly here and there is a strong sense of good values in individuals and families. It has the feeling of a generation-ago, small-town America, but as home to the Idaho National Laboratory, we also have some of the big-city amenities you'd find in a much larger city."
Residents enjoy a thriving arts community and a wide variety of dining options. But for most residents, the year-round opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors are the best thing about living in Idaho Falls, along with a strong, diverse economy and a low unemployment rate of 3.1 percent (as of March 2016).
“If it’s winter, you are skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling,” Schwartz says. “In the summer it’s hunting and fishing. The Snake River Valley is probably the second- or third-best trout fishing spot in America, especially if you like to fly fish. And you can hunt more big game in Idaho than any state in the nation. Idaho also is known as the Gem State, and there are plenty of places you can go to pan for gold or dig for your own opals.”
For his part, Schwartz views Potandon, which employs approximately 100 people, as a microcosm of the local community.
“It’s a small company with big benefits. We have the best health insurance and dental insurance and we have company outings. And ever since I’ve been working here, it has felt like a family company, as everyone knows everyone, and you know each other’s children. People are comfortable coming in to the office,” he says. “Idaho Falls is kind of the same way but on a larger scale.”