Michigan Economy Thrives Due to Food Processing Industry

October 9, 2018

The Michigan region has a great many things to offer both residents and visitors. That said, you might not consider the Great Lake State to be a leader in food processing — and yet, it’s emerged as a truly thriving sector that only continues to grow.

Michigan produces a number of fruits and vegetables, thanks to its superior location. But it’s also becoming well-known for food processing due to its agricultural advancements, proximity to water, and overall infrastructure. And while there are three types of contaminants that lead to unsafe food (biological, chemical, and physical), it seems Michigan has the process down to a science. In fact, there are over 200 food processing establishments that exist in just 13 counties throughout West Michigan. Keeping both farming and processing in the same state is a real benefit, as shown in a 2016 report published by Crain’s Detroit Business.

Mike DiBernardo, director of food innovation for Eastern Market Corporation and former economic development specialist for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, explained: “Food processing is the best way to deliver additional value to the farmers and to the communities that are home to the food processors… It enables a farmer to sell more of his crop,” which in turn creates substantial demand.

Two years later, the state’s food processing sector has increased further and the aim to maintain local economic activity hasn’t changed. Michigan processing companies have expanded in recent years, which is good news for the economy. According to Paul Isely, the associate dean and an economics professor at Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business, every new food processing sector job results in the creation of two additional jobs in the general Michigan economy. Further, between 2010 and 2016, manufacturing in beverage, food, and tobacco increased by around 10% in Michigan and the industry contributes more than $6 million of local economic activity.

The efforts of those in this industry are being recognized, too. The West Michigan Shoreline Food Processing Initiative was just awarded a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support the work they’re doing to highlight Michigan-made and Michigan-grown products. Already, the initiative has conducted economic impact studies and developed education curriculums; now, they’ll work to get those local products into additional U.S. and even foreign markets to help promote what makes Michigan truly great on a larger scale. Considering the initiative was launched less than a year ago, its progress is quite extraordinary — and the USDA has definitely taken notice.

Jason Allen, the USDA’s Rural Development director for the state of Michigan, said in a statement: “USDA is committed to supporting Michigan agriculture and helping rural communities prosper. This is a great example of how we are working with numerous partners to boost local producers and create jobs.”

Another way the food processing sector is creating jobs in Michigan? A new cheese and whey plant that will be built in St. Johns. Builders recently broke down on the $425 million dairy processing facility, which will create an estimated 259 new jobs (and process upwards of 8 million pounds of milk a day). The 146-acre property will also have an adjoining facility to manufacture whey products; this facility will employ up to 38 other workers. Of course, the facilities will likely be furnished with equipment that meets safety standards, like regenerative blowers (which can operate for up to 40,000 hours without being serviced) and air knife systems to ensure consumer health. When finished in December 2020, it’ll be among the largest dairy processing facilities in the entire nation.

While Michigan may not yet be the number one leader in food processing, it’s clear that the state’s organizations have made colossal progress in a short time. It may not be too long before the state can make this sector its claim to fame.

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