It’s no surprise that the bag of frozen french fries in your freezer has a good chance of coming from Idaho. But the trout filets right beside it might have originated here in the Magic Valley, too, along with the block of cheddar in your fridge and the sugar in your pantry. All substantiate the fact that south-central Idaho thrives with the help of the regional agribusiness sector, which boasts a full menu of food-based companies.
Milking It for Profits
“Agriculture and food processing have long been the dominant sectors in our regional economy,” says Melinda Anderson, economic development director for Twin Falls. “I have heard the two together with their up- and downstream providers is close to 50 percent of the economy.”
In smaller cities such as nearby Burley, the industry is even more of a boon to workers. “I believe that about 65 percent of our businesses are directly tied to agriculture,” says Doug Manning, the city’s economic development director. He estimates that as much as 25 percent of the economy is indirectly tied to agribusiness.
Burley received a boost when Gossner Foods opened a $25 million cheese production plant there in 2005, along with a retail store selling locally made dairy products.
Manning says the burgeoning dairy industry and the increase in cheese production facilities also led Glanbia Foods to choose Idaho for its U.S. headquarters in the 1990s (then under the name Avonmore West). Glanbia, which is Irish for “pure food,” employs more than 4,400 around the globe with locations in Germany, China, Brazil and other countries. The world’s largest American-style cheddar cheese manufacturer has two additional plants in the region located in Gooding and Richfield.
Business Moves Swimmingly
Other companies have a natural reason for settling in the region – Mother Nature.
Producing fresh and frozen trout products, Clear Springs Foods located in Buhl because of an underground aquifer, says Cally Parrott, director of corporate relations for Clear Springs Foods. “That’s a natural resource we have,” she says. “The water temperature is a constant 58 degrees – winter, summer, spring and fall.”
Clear Springs primarily produces rainbow trout, an effort that began in 1966 with one of the company’s founders, Ted Eastman. “Eastman loved raising rainbow trout,” says Parrott. “Once he started Clear Springs, he thought another company would process [the fish] for him. That company refused, so he had to scramble to learn more about the processing side and marketing side of the business.”
Since then, Clear Springs has grown to produce 20 million pounds of trout each year. They also process organic fish fertilizer and have plans to turn fish manure into organically certified compost.
One of Twin Falls’ largest food processors is ConAgra Foods, a potato-processing company that produces a whopping 72 billion fries each year. Amalgamated Sugar Co., producing White Satin granulated sugar, grows 110,000 acres or 63 percent of its sugar beet crops in the Mini-Cassia area.
Jerome also prospers when it comes to the food industry; the city is home to cheese-and-whey manufacturer Jerome Cheese Co., potato processor Rite Stuff Foods and dairy producers Idaho Milk Products and Darigold.
Anderson believes the region has Glanbia to thank for the upturn in food processing companies. “Of course Glanbia attracts and helps grow supplier companies due to their needs,” she says.
“Their presence also shows corporations outside the region how well their operations work for them here due to the skilled workforce, excellent transportation options, low cost of doing business and high quality of life.”
Read more on food production in Twin Falls, ID.