Encouraged by a recent survey of statewide economic development, Oregon is looking at California companies that may be interested in relocating or expanding northward.
Representatives of several local communities will join specialists from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Oregon Business Development Department next year to participate in California food shows.
"There is an Oregon-wide level of interest in what's going on with agriculture," says Jerry Gardner, ODA's business development manager. "Of course, a lot of our rural communities depend on agriculture in various ways. Adding more food processing capacity in these rural communities would be a great thing for our overall economy."
With some Oregon counties facing an unemployment rate approaching 20%, local, regional and state officials are looking at all opportunities to attract industries that create jobs. Food processing often makes sense where agricultural production takes place – and for many Oregon communities, farming and ranching is a large slice of the local economy.
"Not everybody can build a wafer manufacturing plant or a solar manufacturing facility," says Gardner. "So a lot of industries that seem to be in vogue right now don't always work well in some rural communities. But agriculture is always there."
Earlier this year, the leadership of the Oregon Economic Development Association – made up of city, county and regional economic development units – surveyed their members on what kind of companies and industries they are most interested in recruiting. An initial list of key industries noted in a survey question did not include agriculture, as the survey was focused on non-agricultural industries. But respondents were asked to identify other industries that are key to their economic development efforts.
Agriculture and value-added food processing were on top of that list.
"Agriculture and food processing got more votes than any other sector," says Gardner, " so there are a lot of people out there who would like to focus on how we can expand our food processing capacity."
The survey results prompted the state agencies to develop a plan to seek out food processors in California through participating in upcoming trade shows.