What attracts food manufacturers to one location over another? Great transport links? Access to skilled workers? Low utility costs or taxes? The biggest bribes? One region that thinks it has what it takes to attract the cream of the crop in food processing (without the bribes) is Northeast Indiana, home of 5-Hour Energy, Li’l Drum ice creams and Kraft’s ‘jet puffed’ marshmallows.
Now Fort Wayne is not Manhattan, Washington DC or Chicago, and it probably isn’t going to beat Hawaii, Florida or San Diego as a honeymoon destination anytime soon.
But if your passion is manufacturing food, it could just be one of the hottest destinations in the country.
The facts speak for themselves. Employment in the food manufacturing sector in Northeast Indiana is up 29% from 3,538 people to 4,547 since 2001 - while employment in food manufacturing at a national level has slumped 6% over the same period.
But what's so special about it? FoodNavigator-USA headed to the offices of the region's economic development agency - the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership (NEIRP) - to find out.
1 - It’s in the black…
For a start, says NEIRP president John Sampson (pictured), Indiana has maintained a budget surplus over the past few years despite the recession, while other states have faced significant budget deficits.
It’s also done a far better job than many other regions at clawing its way out of the recession, with food manufacturers in the region pumping significant sums into factory expansion projects over the past five years,
2 - It’s cheaper to do business here…
The cost of living in the Fort Wayne area is below the national average, while labor costs are also very competitive (the median hourly wage for production jobs is $14.78).
Indiana also has one of the most business-friendly tax climates in the country (it ranks 11th in best tax environments in the US according to the Tax Foundation), while in May 2011, legislation was passed to lower the corporate tax rate from 8.5% to 6.5% by 2016.
3 - Loads of big names in food are here already…and they’ve pumped some serious investment into their plants in the past five years
Some of the biggest names in food manufacturing have set up shop in Northeast Indiana, from Edy’s Grand Ice Cream, to Living Essentials (5-Hour Energy), Kraft Foods, Red Gold (one of the nation’s biggest tomato processors), Bunge, Dean Foods, Pretzels Inc, Miller Poultry, Breyers Ice Cream, Inventure Foods, New Horizons Bakery, Ellison Bakery, Aunt Millie’s Bakeries, DeBrand Fine Chocolates, Olde York Potato Chips, and Holsum Bakery.
And they are growing, with Living Essentials spending more than $30m and creating 350 jobs in the past five years, Edy’s Ice Cream investing $21.5m and creating 200 jobs; Inventure Foods investing $15m and creating 80 new jobs; and Saratoga Potato Chips spending almost $5m and creating 175 new jobs… to name but a few.
Meanwhile, General Mills has just pumped a cool $36m into a new distribution center in Allen County, which has created more than 60 new jobs.
4 - You’ll find the skills you need…
Northeast Indiana has the second highest concentration of New Tech high schools in the country and the largest concentration of STEM-focused (science, technology, engineering and math) New Techs.
Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, is a global leader in food science and technology and has long served as an educational and research partner to food manufacturers in the region, notes Sampson.
However, more than a dozen other colleges and universities are also located in the region, which is home to tens of thousands of graduates from Indiana University, Notre Dame, and Ball State University as well as Purdue.
And if you can’t find the skilled people you need to run your facility, the NEIRP will also work with WorkOne Northeast to help to train people specifically to work in your business, says Sampson.
Finally, the region also benefits from a Talent Initiative established with a $20m grant from the Lilly Endowment that focuses on accelerating education and training initiatives in STEM subjects. The goal is to increase the number of residents with a certified skill, two-year associates or four-year bachelor’s degree from 30% today to 60% by 2025.
5 - It’s got an economic development team second to none…
Formed in 2006, the NEIRP is a public-private (around 85% private, 15% public) economic development organization that has been tasked with not only selling the region, but building a better product to sell.
Serving as a single point of contact for businesses considering Northeast Indiana for a new expansion or relocation, it can provide detailed information on available sites and buildings; customized reports containing business, labor and economic data; and competitive incentive packages developed with state and local governments.
But it's also got involved in a host of initiatives around developing talent, making it easier to get permits and improving transport links.
For more details of how it can assist your business, click here .
6 - It’s in a central location
Centrally located in the Great Lakes region with convenient access to major Midwest markets (two hours to Indianapolis and three hours to Chicago, Detroit, Columbus and Cincinnati), Fort Wayne is the second largest city in Indiana with good transport links.
7 - It’s easy to source raw materials…
Indiana is the nation’s 5th largest corn producing state, 4th largest soybean producing state, and one of the fastest growing dairy states, with sales from dairy operations more than doubling over the last 10 years. Meanwhile, Star of the West operates a soft wheat flour mill in Ligonier that supplies many local bakeries.
8 - It’s got lots of water…
Northeast Indiana has an abundance of excess water capacity to support the needs of food processors and a large supply of certified ‘shovel-ready’ industrial sites with the infrastructure in place (water/sewer capacity, highway and rail access, competitive electric/gas rates) to support new food projects.
9 - And cheaper electricity…
Electricity rates in Northeast Indiana are very competitive (Indiana Michigan Power has an average industrial rate of 5.42 cents/kWh: 22% below the national average).
10 - And finally… It’s got form…
From the first electric kitchen garbage disposer (dubbed ‘Bill Morrill's Electric Pig’ in honor of its inventor, Wilbur Morrill), to the first self-service gas pump, municipal lighting system, electric refrigerator, TV, jukebox and hand-held calculator, Fort Wayne is the home of some of the hottest inventions of the 20th century.
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