Growing food and growing the economy of Southern Idaho go hand in hand.
In 2015, the region was named to the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership by the U.S. Commerce Department, a federal status that makes Southern Idaho eligible for huge grants. Much of the grant money will be earmarked for agriculture-related projects, since Southern Idaho is big in crops, cattle, pork, aquaculture, the processing industry and food science.
“Our proposal’s theme was All Things Food, and to get federal designation shows that Southern Idaho packs a lot of agricultural power,” says Jan Rogers, executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization.
The recognition means that federal representatives are assigned to the region to open doors and address any issues that might arise.
“For example, if a food-based company in Southern Idaho needs to apply for a USDA grant, we contact a representative who is now headquartered in a Region 4 Department office at the College of Southern Idaho,” she says. “Grant opportunities can include infrastructure improvements, research, employee training and much more.”
Yogurt and Energy Bars
The designation rewards Southern Idaho for its agricultural successes over the past few years, including new investments from Frulact Group and Monsanto and expansions at Calva/Brewster, Glanbia Foods and McCain Foods. New York-based yogurt producer Chobani also constructed a 1-million-square-foot plant in Twin Falls.
“We purchase milk right in the community for our yogurt,” says Michael Gonda, Chobani vice president of corporate communications. “Southern Idaho is a beautiful region, and we pay great attention to sustainability practices at our modern manufacturing facility. We try to do everything the right way.”
California-based Clif Bar Baking Company also chose Southern Idaho to produce energy and nutrition bars at a 270,000-square-foot bakery plant it will open in 2016. The company uses more than 100 organic ingredients, including seeds and oats that can be purchased from Southern Idaho farms.
“We focus on sports nutrition, which fits in perfectly with the outdoors lifestyle of mountain biking, climbing, hiking, kayaking and fishing in this region,” says Dale Ducommun, general manager of Clif Bar Baking Company of Twin Falls. “Our bakery will be a LEED-certified green facility, and one landscaping highlight will be the planting of outdoor habitats for bees and butterflies to improve pollination in this area for those involved in agriculture.”
Help Wanted: Millennials
With all the success and growth of agriculture in the region, Rogers says the need to recruit more top employees is vital.
“These days, many millennials ages 18 to 34 first look for a place to live and then get a job, so we have to make Southern Idaho an easier choice for them,” she says. “That’s why we are promoting quality of life and place. Free-spirited outdoor people won't find a better setting than our sand dunes, extreme sports, hiking and biking, the Snake River and more.”
Rogers adds that many millennials want to leave their mark on the world, and Southern Idaho might be ideal because the region literally provides food for the entire world.
“There are currently 90 million millennials in America,” she says. “We want to attract some of them to Southern Idaho.”