Following the food: a look at one of NKY's strongest economic sectors

Last week, economic development leader Northern Kentucky Tri-ED released its Target Industry Analysis, identifying food production as one of the top growth industries in the region.
The nonprofit NKY Tri-ED supports companies in Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties as they pursue expanding and enhancing operations in the region. The organization also works to attract new businesses to the region.
Tri-ED’s Target Industry Analysis (TIA) is a lengthy report produced every five years to ensure that marketing and expansion efforts are targeting the right industries that align with the region’s existing industry base, potential job growth and resources and infrastructure in Northern Kentucky.
After measuring such indicators as wages and tax base, complementary industries, economic diversification and both short- and long-term growth potential, this year’s report concludes that food manufacturing is one of the top three industries poised for growth in the region. The TIA report noted room for growth in the areas of research and development, packaging and relocation of manufacturing headquarter operations.
Newly Weds Foods with members of Tri-ED at the food production company's grand opening in 2013Food production is already a large industry and employment sector locally, as well as an economic cornerstone. Northern Kentucky is home to a diverse swath of food production companies, both large and small. Regional food production companies include Newly Weds Foods, Kellogg (Keebler), Tyson Hillshire Brand Foods, as well as candy manufacturers Perfetti van Melle and Galerie Candy & Gifts and beverage ingredient and flavor company ADM/Wild Flavors. These companies, and others, contribute to the economic viability of the Northern Kentucky region and employ thousands of Greater Cincinnati residents.
Growing the industry’s size and diversity
Newly Weds Foods is one local company anticipating growth in the coming year. They currently employ 100 people at their Erlanger plant, where they produce food coatings such as batters, breaders and bread crumbs. The Erlanger plant services customers in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Canada.
Bart Pilarski is the plant manager at Newly Weds Foods’ Erlanger location. He says the entire industry is growing and expanding and that Newly Weds Foods will be expanding in response.
He reports, “Our plant is expanding in 2017 to accommodate growth and demand from our customers. We will be adding yet another bread crumb baking processing line as well as another batter blend mixing line. This will result in 21 new job positions in 2017 that we will fill.”
The Northern Kentucky region is not a newcomer to the food industry. While food manufacturing is fast becoming one of the region’s growth industries, Northern Kentucky’s agricultural businesses simultaneously continue to grow. According to the national Agricultural Statics Service, Campbell County’s agricultural businesses generate $11.4 million in agricultural sales, much of which is generated from sales outside the region.
Most of what is sold and consumed locally consists of fruits such as grapes, vegetables and honey, but demand for local products is strong. There is potential for growth in the production of local goods that will contribute to the local food stream and regional economy. Campbell County’s Economic Development Office and Preservation District are two entities working together to strengthen the region’s local food production industry.

According to Seth Cutter of the county Economic Development Office, the strength of the region’s food manufacturing industry is tied together with the strength of its agricultural heritage. “Campbell County has placed a strong emphasis on preserving and promoting our farm businesses, wineries/vineyards, and other agritourism spots,” Cutter said. “In our county, there is work underway to gain more quantitative insight into employment and economic impact.”
Within the food production industry, it appears that growth among raw food producers mirrors the growth seen among related product manufacturers. This reflects the increase in demand — both locally and nationally — for products grown and manufactured within a distance convenient for shipping and profitable for the economy in producing and manufacturing communities such as Northern Kentucky.
Daniel Tobergte, President and CEO of Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, sums up the strengths of the region by saying, “Northern Kentucky is uniquely situated to serve the food industry supply chain. We are a one-day drive from two-thirds of the U.S. population, so our food industry supply chain runs the spectrum from perishable and stable food manufacturing, food research and development, to food packaging. We offer an excellent business climate and a strong talent pipeline, and I think we will see continued growth of the food supply chain in this region.”

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