A push to resurrect manufacturing jobs in South Jersey will likely involve an already notable industry in the region: food processing.
While the plan is in its formative stage, developers said it will include the Bridgeton-based Rutgers Food Innovation Center, a sort of incubator for new food-related businesses.
The plan may also involve what officials in Cumberland County are calling the next step in helping businesses that make it through the Food Innovation Center program. That involves construction of a 30,000-square-foot Food Specialization Center next to the Food Innovation Center.
The Food Specialization Center would provide a place for those entrepreneurs to further develop their products, said Gerard Velazquez, executive director of the Cumberland County Improvement Authority. The hope is that those entrepreneurs would remain in the region, and especially Cumberland County, after spending three to five years at the Food Specialization Center, formerly called the Food Commercialization Center.
The plan was discussed Wednesday during a meeting at Cumberland County College by a consortium that includes the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the New Jersey Advance Manufacturing Network. The food-processing plan would be part of what’s called a targeted industry partnership, or TIP.
As with other TIPs, it’s hoped that manufacturers take the lead in developing the program, outlining their needs for advanced manufacturing jobs, said Raymond Vaccari, the network’s executive director. The plan would cover Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.
Officials in South Jersey have long bemoaned the loss of manufacturing jobs over the past three decades.
The consortium estimates the state still has about 11,000 manufacturing firms, with about 90 percent of those firms having no more than 50 employees. Those firms provided an estimated $13.5 billion in total wages in 2015, they said.
But, Vaccari said, there are indications that the 30-year-old trend may be in reverse, creating a situation in which manufacturing companies need more highly skilled laborers. The consortium believes food processing can be a significant draw for those kinds of workers.
Agriculture remains a significant part of South Jersey’s economy, Velazquez said. Further developing that economy will not only create new jobs, it will have a spillover effect for businesses, such as farms, that would support it, he said.
Food processing in South Jersey generally remains strong.
In June 2015, Bridor USA opened what it called the largest in-line pastry production center in the United States. The line is housed in a $32 million, 42,000-square-foot addition to the company’s plant on Industrial Way in Vineland.
In October, AdvancePierre Foods of Cincinnati bought Allied Specialty Foods Inc., which produces raw and cooked beef and chicken Philly steak products.
The $60 million cash purchase came at a time when Allied was expanding its operations in Vineland. The company planned to move from its 20,000-square-foot facility in the 300 block of Hickory Place to a 70,000-square-foot facility at Forest Grove Road and Freddy Lane. Work on the new facility was estimated at $13.4 million.
And Omni Baking has a 171,000-square-foot facility in Vineland that produces fresh, frozen, baked and par-baked items that include artisan, Kaiser, Italian and ciabatta rolls. Omni also produces all the hoagie rolls for Wawa.
But not the all the food-processing related news is good.
General Mills is closing its Progresso soup plant in Vineland this year. The closing will result in 338 layoffs, with the first 65 employees scheduled to lose their jobs March 24.