A handful of years ago, Forward Wisconsin, which at the time was Wisconsin’s primary entity in marketing the state for economic development, identified ten industries that have the potential to form the backbone of the state’s economy. Those ranged from medical devises and wind energy to paper and dairy. One of those included the broad category of agricultural or food processing (sometimes referred to as “agricultural value added” or “food manufacturing”). This could include value added dairy processing such as cheese and ice cream or processing of fruits and vegetables such as freezing or canning.
In a 2009 study of the Wisconsin agricultural economy Deller and Williams documented that the food processing industry generates about 252,000 jobs and $15.5 billion in income. This represents just over seven percent of all employment and just less than seven percent of all income in Wisconsin. In addition, the economic activity associated with food processing generated just over $1 billion in state and local government revenues.
To help state and local community economic development practitioners, policy makers and concerned citizens better understand the food processing industry in Wisconsin, the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Center for Community Economic Development with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, undertook an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the industry. The results of these analyses are presented here in a series of simple fact sheets.
When thinking about food processing as an economic cluster, there are several ways to proceed. One methods is to focus on “tightening the input supply chain” by addressing notions of “gaps” and “disconnects”. As outlined in the fact sheets, this can be bridging food processors with existing businesses within Wisconsin or through “import substitution”. This particular approach is what is highlighted in the industry specific fact sheets.