What’s not to like about Greek yogurt? It’s delicious and healthy and requires three times the amount of milk needed to produce traditional yogurt.
That last point is particularly appealing to Western New York dairy farmers, who soon might be working full time to keep up with demand from the region’s growing cluster of Greek yogurt plants.
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined PepsiCo chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi and Theo Muller Group CEO Heiner Kamps at the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park in Batavia to mark the beginning of a $200 million project to build one of the nation’s largest yogurt manufacturing plants-more than 350,000 square feet. The PepsiCo-Muller joint venture, initially dubbed Project Wave and now called Muller Quaker Dairy LLC, is expected to create more than 180 jobs and start operating next year.
Elsewhere in the Batavia agribusiness park, Alpina Foods LLC of Colombia is building a 40,000-square-foot facility to make yogurt. The $15 million project is expected to create 50 jobs and be up and running this summer.
These projects are driven by the surge of popularity that has made Greek yogurt perhaps the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. food industry. But as the RBJ reported this spring, the boom in Batavia was made possible by work that stretches back nearly a decade.
The decision by economic development officials in Genesee County to create shovel-ready sites for developers led to creation of the agribusiness park.
"It started with a strategy we had eight or nine years ago to use the region’s assets and work to enhance the ag community and make this a prime market for food processing," Steven Hyde, Genesee County Economic Development Center president and CEO, told reporter Andrea Deckert.
Initially, the Batavia site was not near the top of the list of possible locations for the Muller Quaker Dairy plant. It had access to dairy resources, adequate water supply and ready distribution routes to key markets. But ultimately, the key factor might have been the speed with which site-plan approvals and construction could take place.
The cooperative efforts of many public- and private-sector players have made this a big success story. It’s also a model for future economic development efforts.
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