The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news.
Every year several thousand people integral to the food we produce convene in Portland for the Northwest Food Processors Convention and Expo. I have been to the show many times and it is a great place to see how this industry works via their exposition. It is also an excellent venue to learn more about the issues and opportunities affecting this vital manufacturing sector.
The Port of Grandview led our local promotional efforts at this year's trade show. They have had a booth for years at the show and it is fun to join their Commissioners promoting out region’s advantages to food processors and their suppliers. Over the last couple years it has been a good place to be if you are interested in mingling with healthy companies.
Our state’s food processing industry is on a roll. I chatted with Dave Zepponi, the NW Food Industry’s President/CEO before the show and he said it is an amazing time to be in the industry. “We are on the cutting edge [in terms of productive ability] and we are adjacent to growing Pacific Rim markets. We are well positioned for the future”. Washington’s food processors added 2,000 jobs last year. The industry now employs 39,000 statewide – it’s the third largest manufacturing sector in Washington.
While this strong employment report signals a healthy industry, there are nonetheless a host of issues that keep management up at night. Food safety regulations probably top the list. The feds recently released its initial 1100 pages of regulations to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act that passed last January. Navigating through compliance issues related to this new law will no doubt change the way food companies do business.
Workforce and sustainability issues also get a lot of attention within the industry. Companies are constantly challenged to solve niche skill issues at various plants. There are lots of company veterans also headed towards retirement so questions loom as to how to find and keep talented employees. In terms of sustainability Zeppoini says part of the challenge lies in better telling the industry’s story. Companies generally operate on a sensitive path already. Businesses in the industry recognize that source ingredient quality and processing precision are critical to their future.
Maintaining Washington’s tax exemption for food processors that export their product out of state is also important. The industry gains a substantial competitive edge in terms of overall operating costs when we reduce transaction costs for exports out of state. With huge opportunities to serve new international markets it makes sense to keep this tax credit and look at other incentives that could boost this industry’s fortunes.
Our team did not meet any hot new prospects at the event. At the same time though we benefited from learning more about this industry. Seeds were also planted with quite a few companies that could become prospects in the future, so the show was ultimately very worthwhile. More than half our current recruitment prospects are food processors so we are already getting strong signals from this industry. And according to Frank Spano, a site selector serving food companies, the industry outlook is very favorable. He cited that 62 percent of food processors nationally expect to make capital investments over the next couple years. Forty-four percent of these companies will also be adding jobs.
We will keep you posted surrounding our work with food processing clients and our marketing efforts to this industry. Next month our team is attending the International Agriculture Exposition in Tulare, California. This is one of the biggest shows of its type in the country and I’ll look forward to updating you regarding our experiences at this event. In the meantime click here to see how the marketing packet we share with food processors.