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Where Is the “Silicon Valley of Food”?

The food industry in Twin Falls and Southern Idaho has grown into a national leader in food production, processing and advancements.

By Wesley Broome on December 13, 2022

Clif Bar Baking Company in Twin Falls, Idaho
Jeff Adkins

Home to big-name food manufacturers from Clif Bar to Chobani, Southern Idaho has earned the nickname “the Silicon Valley of Food” – coined by Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani himself.

In Magic Valley, dams and irrigation systems transformed once barren land into fertile ground for a booming agriculture industry. Now, agribusiness contributes to 48% of jobs in the region and 68% of new money. While dairy remains the leading food industry in Twin Falls, even more opportunities can be found at companies that have operations in the region, such as Clif Bar, Dot Foods and Arrowhead Potato Co.

Chobani is one of the many reasons Southern Idaho is called the "Silicon Valley of Food"
Chobani

Idaho Ranks High in Dairy Production

Idaho has earned a spot as the third-ranking dairy producer in the U.S. Large companies such as Chobani, Idaho Milk Products and High Desert Milk process millions of pounds of milk each day. Recent expansions at these companies, such as High Desert Milk’s new $50 million facility in Burley, mean more jobs for the region.

Chobani runs the world’s largest yogurt manufacturing plant, located in Twin Falls. Chobani is known for its Greek-style yogurt, though it also produces oat milk-, dairy- and plant-based coffee creamers, ready-to-drink coffee and probiotic drinks.

“The career opportunities at our Idaho facility are vast,” says Brandon Dansie, vice president of Chobani’s People Team. “From manufacturing and supply chain to engineering and automation, to working in our Global Research and Development Center, and well beyond.”

Companies like Chobani contribute greatly to the dairy industry’s workforce.

“We have broad opportunities for those who call the Magic Valley home but who may have gone to school elsewhere and are looking to return and raise their family in this area,” Dansie says.

Did You Know?

Twin Falls alone accounts for 13.5% of milk production in Idaho and 72% of the state’s dairy herd.

Opportunities for Growth

Affordable housing and good wages make this a highly desirable area for people seeking to enter the dairy or food processing industry. To support employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, High Desert Milk in Burley raised its wages by 9% to 16%.

“Employees responded energetically to the windfall of more opportunities at better pay,” says Karla Robinson, controller at High Desert Milk, “And the community responded by raising wages as well.”

High Desert Milk has also developed a successful apprenticeship program for high school students, the School to Registered Apprenticeship Program (STRAP), setting students up for future opportunities in the industry.

“[STRAP’s] intent from the beginning was to develop curriculum and training that would allow high school students the opportunity to gain needed skills so they could quickly attain employment after graduation,” says Tory Bailey, High Desert Milk human resources manager.

Students who complete the course are offered a job at one of its supporting companies.

Work-Life Balance

Wellness, education and good benefits are high on the list for these employers. Brewster Cheese, with a production plant in Rupert, offers tuition reimbursement in addition to a 401(k) and expansive health insurance.

Clif Bar, with a manufacturing plant in Twin Falls, offers unique wellness-based perks. A $350 yearly athletic stipend is provided for marathon entry fees. In addition to looking after its employees, Clif Bar is a steward of the environment, operating on 100% green energy.

Chobani, too, emphasizes wellness and work-life balance by providing six weeks of gender-equitable paid parental leave, an all-access gym at its Idaho facility and comprehensive health benefits.

Chobani manufacturing plant in Twin Falls
Chobani

Paying It Forward

Chobani’s commitment to its employees includes salaries starting at $16 per hour and averaging $20 an hour at its manufacturing facilities. In addition to supporting its employees through an extensive benefits package, Chobani extends its philanthropic reach into surrounding communities.

“Many companies value the notion of giving back, but at Chobani our philanthropic efforts aim to truly pay it forward,” says Alyson Oüten, director of impact and communications.

Along with numerous Chobani initiatives directed at food and nutrition insecurity, the company also provides scholarships to the University of Idaho through its Chobani Scholars program and helps fund local entrepreneurs with Community Impact Funds.

High Desert Milk regularly donates to local food pantries, and its employees participate in community service projects, leading to a higher quality of life for all involved.

“This has taught us that when we feel good, our quality of life climbs immensely,” Robinson says.

Coming Soon

In May 2022, Chobani announced a $1 million gift to the University of Idaho-led Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Idaho CAFE) to fund construction of the nation’s largest research dairy. The facilities will span three counties in Magic Valley – Minidoka, Twin Falls and Jerome – bridging scientific innovation and economic interest in the state. As Idaho remains a top dairy producer in the nation, further research, development and education will lead to important innovations for a sustainable future.

Facilities will include a 640-acre demonstration farm and public outreach center to help educate surrounding communities. The College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls will eventually collaborate on food science efforts at the education center, connecting more communities that are involved in the dairy industry.

Implementing new, sustainable practices is of high importance to Chobani and the dairy industry at large. Becoming carbon neutral and maximizing water quality are among the industry’s top sustainability goals.

The Idaho CAFE project aims to benefit both the environment and the workforce by researching environmental impact as well as labor management and animal health.

Dairy continues to be central to the economic health of the industry. The first phase of construction for the Idaho CAFE project is expected to be complete in 2023, when cows at the Rupert research dairy will begin producing milk.

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