Food processing center planned for N.C. Research Campus

Published 12:05 am Sunday, August 6, 2017

By Josh Bergeron

KANNAPOLIS — If predictions hold true, a planned addition to the N.C. Research Campus could help sharply improve the state’s food manufacturing industry.

Known as the Food Science Processing and Innovation Center, the addition would use up to 15,000 square feet at the N.C. Research Campus. Inside the food processing center would be a lab that complies with good manufacturing processes. The processing center would allow companies to develop, design and test new food products, said N.C. State University food science and nutrition professor Mario Ferruzzi.

“This is actually going to be a really great opportunity, and it’s really going to build the future of food manufacturing,” Ferruzzi said.

In June, the food processing center secured a $4.4 million, one-time allocation from the N.C. General Assembly and a $700,000 recurring allocation. Now, state and local officials are hammering out details of the food processing center. Ferruzzi said the processing center is scheduled to open near the end of 2018.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture said it sees the center as a “major resource” to support food manufacturers. A 2014 study from N.C. State and the Department of Agriculture described the food processing center as an economic development catalyst. That study and people currently working on the project place a particular focus on how the food processing center might benefit rural communities.

The study specifically looked at the possibilities for the food manufacturing industry in the context of the decline of North Carolina’s textile, furniture and tobacco industries. If properly implemented, a food manufacturing initiative would play a part in adding 38,000 jobs and $10.3 billion in revenue to the state’s economy by 2020, the 2014 study stated.

“The center will play a role in making that prediction come true,” the N.C. Department of Agriculture said in an emailed statement. “The center can help N.C. Food businesses develop and grow, and help with the recruitment of food businesses from elsewhere.”

Food manufacturing businesses exist in North Carolina, but the industry is not as large as one might expect based on the state’s agrarian history and other factors, the 2014 study said. Using 2012 statistics, the study found that 91,000 people in North Carolina are employed by food processing and manufacturing businesses.

With about 31,000 people employed, animal processing ranked as the largest largest individual sector. Bakeries were second with about 7,200 people employed. Beverages were third with about 4,800 people employed. With aboout 2,900 employees, fruit and vegetable processing was fourth.

The N.C. Research Campus food processing center would provide consultation services, provide resources for companies to formulate a recipe for a product and provide space for production, Ferruzzi said.

He said food processing center would fulfill industry needs and add to what’s already at the N.C. Research Campus — businesses and eight universities focused on food and nutrition research.

“I really see all the pieces coming together on one campus that allow us to be a really unique facility, not just a processing facility but also unique campus with the NCRC here,” Ferruzzi said. “We should be open for business in a really big way from the standpoint of beginning to address the big questions regarding food, food processing and health.”

Currently, the team planning the food processing center are developing a list of needed equipment and looking at designs, said Mark Spitzer, Vice President for Castle and Cooke North Carolina.

Spitzer said the N.C. Research Campus is scheduled to solicit proposals from construction companies in the fall. It’s possible construction inside of the core lab building could start in the first quarter of 2018, he said.

Castle and Cooke developed of the N.C. Research Campus, and Spitzer said the food processing center will either be the largest or second-largest tenant in the core lab.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.