Manufacturing Tales

Granola, yogurt: meet the industrial worker

There are places in America where manufacturing is returning. They just don’t assume the nostalgic form that many of us would love to picture. In unexpected basins of manufacturing revival, the trades now incorporate automation, sustainability, and streamlined processes. Much different from your classic assembly line and factory.

Here’s the thing, though: many of these new manufacturing communities are still reliant on the same things: raw materials based in the area, and a workforce willing to work hard and use its physical skill set(s).

Clif Bar’s facility underneath a scenic Twin Falls, Idaho sky. The nearby Sawtooth Mountains are the very backdrop the company targets for its customers.—Clif Bar photo

For a solid, functional manufacturing workforce to flourish, a plant needs a good reason for its location. As highlighted in a New York Times piece by Kirk Johnson this Tuesday, the scenic, vast region around Twin Falls, Idaho has seen two companies with seemingly bohemian products cement new homes there due to the raw materials in the area. For Chobani yogurt, the rich soil deposits in the region have long been fertile for dairy production. For Clif Bar, look no further than Mother Earth’s own textures, inviting climbers and adventurists of all kinds to utilize its health and energy bars right in the backyard of production.

Clif Bar’s company managers have encouraged biking to work by giving financial incentives to those who do. Chobani has worked with the local education system to develop tech training curriculums for managing the whirring maelstrom of robots that make and package Greek yogurt at national-scale volume. Johnson infers that “a powerful counterexample to the national narrative of rural decline might be unfolding,” in these places. And workers who inhabit them want to work. They’re willing to learn whatever process they need to, as long as it provides a fair and steady wage. Supporting a family is still the driving force behind learning any trade.

Other eye-opening threads of an industrial habitat like Twin Falls are the incentives that made it equally appealing to other sectors of the workforce. With a large sector of the American dairy industry within a two-hour drive, Chobani is able to lower transportation costs and competitive advantage for a company that buys milk by the tanker-truck. Clif Bar, meanwhile saw promise in the agricultural industry around Twin Falls, making it ideal for food manufacturing. The backdrop of Wild Western mountain scenery also doubled as a marketing tool.

The Chobani yogurt factory in Twin Falls, Idaho.—Chobani photo

Lastly, all of this isn’t to say you can’t survive “the traditional way”. A business doesn’t have to be mentioned in the New York Times to be deserving of recognition…in fact, local papers will often have a sharper focus. Take Priest Electric in Caldwell, Idaho, in the western part of the state, which was recently featured in an Idaho Press story written by Olivia Weitz. At Priest, they’ve been servicing electric motors since the 50s, and by covering as many bases as possible, kept a family business more than afloat.

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