The Genesee County (New York) Economic Development Center (GCEDC)—with the mission of attracting food producers and other manufacturing businesses to the region—has partnered with Genesee Community College to offer an associate degree in food processing.
With the help of Mueller Quaker, Alpina Foods, and other food firms in the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park and surrounding area, students in the degree program will gain hands-on experience to further their education.
Rachael Tabelski, marketing and communications director, GCEDC, told FoodProductionDaily food processing education for students at the college level and younger, benefits the local business community and workforce.
“New programs aimed at bringing agriculture and food processing education into primary and secondary schools allows children to understand the concept of field to fork and may entice them to pursue further education in field,” she said.
“For displaced workers, new ‘boot camp’ food processing training is available to allow them to change fields and pursue steady growing careers; for college-ready students, education in food processing will help them focus on a technical degree and provide them with a plethora of opportunities to go right into a growing industry sector or pursue higher education.”
What’s more, Tabelski said, promoting food processing education offers benefits beyond immediate workforce and economic impact.
“The culmination of these activities helps promote and enhance the food processing industry on a broader scale and general awareness of the industry contributes to the buying patterns of consumers,” she said.
The partnership among the GCEDC, the regional food processing community, and local educators (including Genesee Community College) began two years ago, with the intent of ensuring the region’s workforce could handle the influx of new jobs at the Agri-Business Park and surrounding area. After a number of planning sessions and dialogue with industry leaders, the idea for a food processing curriculum was born.
“The school is launching an applied associate’s degree program in food processing that if the first of its kind in New York State,” Tabelski said. “Recent approval from New York State has solidified the relationship of GCC with the food processing industry; enrollment for the program is open now and the first classes begin this fall.”
The two-year, 63-credit program (crafted with input from Cornell University) will cover food safety, sanitation, food, and dairy processing operations, and food labeling. Graduates will obtain an associate’s in applied science, and an internship at a food processing facility will be part of the curriculum.
Food production already is a vital force in Genesee County, and growing. Agriculture and food/beverage sectors employ more than 1,500 people in the county alone, and 20,000 people total throughout the region.
“Food manufacturers specifically value our region’s abundant milk supply and agricultural assets, transportation infrastructure, access to fresh water, and access to major U.S. and Canadian markets,” Tabelski said.
The GCEDC has deepened the area’s hospitality to food businesses with the establishment of the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park. The park is designed to entice food production to the area with plentiful local resources, and a friendly business climate.
“The Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park encompasses a 250-acre, shovel-ready, pre-permitted park strategically located between Western New York and the Finger Lakes region in Batavia, New York,” she said. “On site there is access to low cost process water via a local aquifer, a short and main line rail access to move products, and large-capacity municipal sewer and water; with a pre-permitted site companies can break ground in less than 45 days, and recently Muller Quaker Dairy had site approvals to break ground in 15 days.”
The park’s first phase wrapped in 2010; in 2011 Columbian dairy producer Alpina Foods established its first US location in the park, and Mueller Quaker (a joint effort between Pepsico/Quaker and German dairy outfit Muller) built their first stateside plant there the year after.
“To date, over $230 million dollars of investment has been attracted to the Ag-Park, and over 230 people are employed within the park,” Tabelski told FPD. “The GCEDC is working with several companies within the food processing industry and supply chain companies that are interested in the park; the park has grown to 250 acres with 150 acres available today and plans for future growth.”