Food processing is one of the strongest industry clusters in south central Idaho, primarily focused in Jerome, Twin Falls, Cassia and Minidoka counties.
(Click on chart below to enlarge.)
Agriculture is driving this sector through the added value that the availability of commodities has fostered. In a state where livestock outnumber people by more than a million, animal production is the largest component, dominated by the dairy industry.
Frozen fruit, juice and vegetable processing ranks second, concentrated in the large operations of Con Agra, McCain Foods and Seneca augmented by smaller potato processors.
Cheese manufacturing is expected to grow about 8 percent over the next five years while sugar beet processing, the most concentrated of all the industries compared to the nation, is likely to maintain that position. The number of workers at the two processing plants has been stable over the past two decades.
Production of plastic products, an industry that could locate anywhere with a good transportation structure, is a link in the supply for other industries. While plastic pipe and fitting manufacturing has been in decline in south central Idaho, it still provides significant employment augmented by jobs producing bags, foam, eating utensils, cups and straws. The plastics industry regionally had almost 700 jobs in 2014, 36.4 percent of the statewide total. Its packaging components are needed for shipping fragile items and food and beverage products.
While the pay varies, it provides jobs for designers who create the labeling on the plastic wrap, fork lift operators and material movers, machine operators and maintenance mechanics – jobs that offer opportunities in other industries as well.
These industries have the potential for more growth, depending on markets and export potential, infrastructure improvements and research that leads to innovation and new products and processes. This can be financed privately, but it then becomes proprietary. Publicly financed infrastructure and research to develop overall systems that can assist companies in gaining efficiencies and market share benefit many companies, enhancing the overall economy rather than the prospects for just one business.
Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 735-2500 ext 3639