Del Monte vegetables are bringing in the green. Wonder Bread is making the dough. Hamburger Helper is helping the economy. While other industries suffer during this recession, the Rock River Valley’s mix of food processers, packagers and distributors are actually doing well as cash-strapped consumers eat at home more often.
Del Monte vegetables are bringing in the green. Wonder Bread is making the dough. Hamburger Helper is helping the economy.
While other industries suffer during this recession, the Rock River Valley’s mix of food processors, packagers and distributors are actually doing well as cash-strapped consumers eat at home more often. The food-processing industry, which employs more than 2,500 people here, is even seen as a growth area.
“They are in many ways recessionproof. ... People are still eating three square meals a day,” said Janyce Fadden, president of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council. “They are all doing well in this area. Several of them are thinking about expanding operations. The buildings they’re in are very full.”
In 2007, General Mills expanded its Green Giant plant in Belvidere, while Kettle Foods finished a potato chip factory in Beloit, Wis. This year, work began on a Bay Valley Foods distribution center in Rochelle, where existing food warehouses are “busting at the seams,” said Jason Anderson, the city’s economic development director.
Anderson, who used to work in the food-processing industry, said this region is ideal both because of its location along Midwestern highways and rail lines, but also because its workers have decades of experience.
“You’ve got people in this area who have been trained and educated in good manufacturing practices ... and overall food handling,” Anderson said. “The food business is good business. They pay good wages, and it does take some specialized training.”
That said, it’s also a good line of work for people with only high school diplomas, something the Rock River Valley has a lot of, Fadden said. Most of the jobs don’t requite high-tech skills.
Healthy snack-food maker TH Foods expanded its Loves Park facility two years ago and had record sales in October and November. But President and CEO Terry Jessen said he won’t breathe easy until 2009.
“People are eating right now, but the Christmas bills come due in January,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to get hurt ... but my biggest concern is what’s going to be the next thing to happen (to the economy)?”
Thomas V. Bona can be reached at (815) 987-1343 or email@example.com.