Southern Idaho boosts a significant food processing concentration at about 6.5 times greater than the nation. This concentration led the U.S. Department of Commerce under the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) to designate South-Central Idaho as an “All Things Food” Manufacturing Community in 2015. “A powerhouse of agricultural production and processing, the region is home to a diverse cluster of big name, globally recognized processors and home-grown food production facilities” (www.americanmcc.org). Included are household names like Chobani yogurt, Idahoan potatoes and Clif Bar energy foods. Additionally, the region is home to premier brands such as Riverence Steelhead and Rainbow Trout and True West Beef.
Cheese and dairy products account for a large portion of the food processing cluster. The number and size of dairy operations in the eight county area has led to the creation of a range of dairy-related expansions and business recruitments. Among these are Agropur, Chobani yogurt, Darigold milk, Idaho Milk Producers, Brewster Cheese, Gossner Foods, Glanbia Nutritionals, and High Desert Milk producing a range of Greek yogurt, butter, milk, as well as cheddar, Swiss and powdered cheese products. The region is also host to manufacturers of products found in many American pantries including whey protein for smoothies and cheese powder for mac-n-cheese.
South-central Idaho also produces significant amounts of beef, pork, lamb, and poultry products. Falls Brand pork, True West Beef, Lava Lake Lamb, and Harmony Hens are just a few producers who contribute to the diverse array of products generated in the region.
The South-Central Idaho location provides regional food processing companies with a competitive advantage for reaching many west coast markets in under twenty-four hours, making the most of the region’s cornucopia of raw materials and lower energy costs. An abundance of available land for food processing development allows for all aspects of the supply chain to be centrally located which promotes ongoing cluster collaboration. The region continues to welcome small start-up companies as well as major manufacturers from around the world.
The ability to move perishable food products quickly and reliably is key. According to the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) 2023 Strategic Freight Plan identified trucks as the predominate mode of transportation for freight. Ensuring sufficient and safe highway systems is critical. The Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls functions as a major throughfare with over 40,000 crossings per day, with 25% being commercial vehicles. Idaho Congressional Representative Mike Simpson identified this area as one of the state’s choke points in May 2023. The high amount of traffic could be alleviated with an additional Snake River crossing. An ITD study found traffic could be reduced by 39% if a rim-to-rim bridge was constructed west of Twin Falls, connecting to Highway 93. In 2023, the estimated project cost was $590 million.
Eastern Idaho Railroad operated by WATCO, the region’s short-line railroad, provides logistics and freight services for the area’s perishable food producers - with a state-of-the-art facility in Burley currently being developed. The new business park will have the ability to serve regional clients and attract additional supply chain partners to a 93-acre site in conjunction with the Mini-Cassia Commerce Authority. Airfreight service for overnight delivery is also available through several major carriers. Two commercial and twelve general aviation airports also service South-central Idaho: Friedman Memorial, Magic Valley Regional, Gooding Municipal, Burley Municipal, Buhl Municipal, Camas County Airport, Hazelton Municipal, Oakley Municipal, Jerome County, Pine Airport, Picabo Airport, Minidoka Airport, Carey Airport, and Magic Reservoir Airport. These airports provide vital services to South-central Idaho such as charter flights, emergency medical transport, easy access to Idaho’s backcountry for recreation, agriculture support, and wildfire suppression.
Hydroelectric power is a factor in bringing electricity to the eight counties. Additionally, living above the hot spot that created Yellowstone National Park provides a ready source of geothermal resources for power generation and hot water for space heating. This regional asset contributes to Idaho’s low utility rates. In 2019, Idaho had the third lowest electricity rates in the nation.
The diversification of Idaho’s energy sources will ensure the continuation of these low rates. Idaho utilizes numerous forms of renewable energy to meet the growing demands of the state and nation. Idaho Power Company, with their traditional power-generation base of hydro and coal-fired plant, has expanded to also utilize wind power generators to meet their “green goals.” In 2021, wind power accounted for 16% of the net electric grid in Idaho, generating 2,655,000 megawatt hours.viii The Snake River Plain, which encompasses South-central Idaho, provides the State’s most promising wind resources. As of May 2023, 15 wind turbine projects and 170 turbines are operational in South-central Idaho, with additional farms being discussed. The Lava Ridge Wind Project proposes constructing up to 400 turbines on mostly public land in Jerome, Lincoln, and Minidoka counties. The project has proved to be controversial and has received resistance from ranchers, historians, hunters, and politicians. Preserving existing agricultural production must be central to any mitigation plan as our region looks to harness cheap energy. Likewise, solar energy is being promoted with solar farms replacing underutilized grazing lands. Farms, small businesses, and residents now take advantage of the “sun” as a natural energy alternative. In Spring 2022, Idaho Power began construction of a 120-megawatt utility-scale solar facility. The project, known as Jackpot Solar, is the largest utility-scale solar project in Idaho and helps Idaho Power move towards its goal of being 100% clean by 2045.ix
Efforts to utilize anaerobic digesters to convert methane rich gas from manure into natural gas is also underway in the region. In November 2021, Shell Oil Products US announced plans to construct a renewable natural gas production facility within an operating dairy in Wendell (below). Not only will this provide additional fuel sources by producing as much as 400,000 MMBtu per year, but the process can also help reduce carbon dioxide emissions between 50-100% compared to fossil fuels.
The region features internationally recognized tourism and outdoor recreation destinations. The region is home to four commercial ski areas: Soldier Mountain, Pomerelle, Magic Mountain, and Sun Valley. Miles of backcountry skiing as well as Nordic trails are available in several parts of the area. Snowmobiling is also a significant local pastime with groomed trails and warming stations providing visitors with support for outdoor adventure.
The world-famous Sun Valley Resort in Blaine County brings countless tourists to the region. In an effort to diversify, the Sun Valley Resort has positioned themselves as a year-round destination. Mountain biking, camping, hiking, and other fair-weather activities are now drawing a significant number of visitors to help local businesses survive the end-of-ski-season slump. Other outdoor activities attract visitors from around the globe and contribute to the broadening of the economy.
The region also boasts numerous state parks and national monuments, including Thousand Springs State Park, Minidoka National Historic Site, Craters of Moon National Monument and Preserve, Lake Walcott State Park, and the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. In April 2022, a $2.3 million visitor center was opened in Hagerman with the goal of enhancing visitor experience with “new opportunities for historical interpretation, improved recreational access and economic vitality for the Hagerman Valley.”x
Tourism, including hotel and food sales, contributes $159 million annually to the regional economy. In addition to outdoor activities, the region’s top attractions include historic places, agritourism, cultural activities and brewery tours.