The growth of food processing will be highlighted during this year's inaugural Grow Manufacturing lunch and expo at Pasco's TRAC facility.
The Oct. 15 event created by the Tri-City Development Council is meant to replace the Smartmap Expo.
The smaller event is a way to continue to highlight Tri-City manufacturing while giving Gary White, TRIDEC's director of business retention and expansion, more time to focus in on helping expand food manufacturers.
Last year was the Smartmap Expo's most successful year, White said. But while the event brought people into the area, it wasn't creating new Columbia Basin manufacturing jobs.
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The Smartmap Expo had become a two-day event. Last year, the 11th annual event kicked off with a dinner and included a full day where the public could check out 145 exhibitors.
TRIDEC started a new effort this year to keep and grow local food and beverage manufacturers, White said. The program has been dubbed Food and Beverage Retention & Expansion Opportunities, or FABREO Columbia Basin.
White is working to identify what needs to be done to better position the Columbia Basin as a globally significant food and beverage processing region.
About 45 percent of Tri-City manufacturers are food and beverage companies, he said. Those companies represent 58 percent of local manufacturing wages and 68 percent of local manufacturing jobs. Wineries are among those manufacturers.
White has spent a good chunk of this year visiting 71 food and beverage producers in Benton and Franklin counties. He's working on wrapping up a survey. The results should be released later this year.
The Tri-City area has many wonderful manufacturers who make products such as wheelchairs and medical equipment, but none of the other manufacturers are part of a local manufacturing cluster like food and beverage companies, White said.
"We have got not only a cluster but a world class cluster and we need to spend our time on that," he said.
The Tri-Cities already has the basic infrastructure need by food manufacturers and is seeing growth in that industry, he said.
White will briefly introduce expansion opportunities during the upcoming Grow Manufacturing event.
It's apropos to kick off the new event with food manufacturers but it won't be tied specifically to agriculture. It's meant to highlight a cross section of the area's manufacturers.
Dave Zepponi, who recently resigned as president of the Northwest Food Processors Association, will talk at lunch about the growth of food processing in the Pacific Northwest.
Greg Schlafer, president of ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston, also is expected to speak. Lamb Weston is being given the Impact Washington Manufacturer of the Year Award.
Lamb Weston, which processes Columbia Basin potatoes into frozen food such as french fries, has seven plants in the Columbia Basin.
Before a recent expansion of its Boardman plant, the company processed 11 billion potatoes from Columbia Basin fields each year. That's enough potatoes to fill 350 football fields 6 feet deep.
Lunch attendees will get a chance to check out at least 40 exhibitors from 11 a.m. to noon. Lunch is noon to 1:30 p.m. and costs $35 per person. It is free for the public to visit the exhibitors between 1:30 to 3 p.m.
Those who want to attend the lunch need to reserve a seat by Oct. 10. To register or for more information, go to http://www.tridec.org/events_info/grow/ or call 509-735-1000.
For more information on Food and Beverage Retention & Expansion Opportunities, go to http://fabreo.org/.
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-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com