How large is the new facility?
It’s 75,000 square feet overall. 55,000 was built for Greek yoghurt and cultured products with associated infrastructure, 10,000 for a future artisan cheese operation, and 10,000 for a future agritourism initiative. When we bought the 136-acre site, it included a farm—barn, silos, everything. This fits perfectly with the agritourism idea. Also helpful is that our dairy business dovetails nicely with other agricultural strengths in upstate New York, like the production of local wines and craft beer. We also tie in with the Agricultural School at Cornell.
Are there any notable sustainability breakthroughs at the new plant that visitors will be impressed by?
When we make Greek yoghurt we generate acid whey. If it’s dumped into a water stream, it would contaminate that water. But through a relationship we have with Cortland County, we ship the whey to their biodigester and they generate methane and electricity to power their wastewater plant.
What kind of research did you do as you formulated your plans for getting into the agritourism business?
We selected cross functional teams and visited 30 different examples of agritourism sites across the country, each team visiting five locations. If there’s anything we learned, it’s that the quality of the experience you have is driven by the person who takes you on the tour. Some places we saw had spent large sums of money but the person who guided us through left us feeling not at all great about the experience. Elsewhere we saw places where not so much money had been invested, yet because the individual we dealt with was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable, we had a great experience. The teams then picked the top eight examples of agritourism and a team of 15 went back to these facilities. In addition to our team we brought along architects and engineers. That’s how we developed our plan, which we’ll begin implementing in about two years.
Do packaging lines and packaging machinery play a role in agritourism?
Definitely. Remember, a fundamental objective in the whole concept of agritourism is to expose young people to the world of advanced manufacturing with the hope that they see it as an exciting place for them to work in the future. I’m on the board of directors of MACNY, the Manufacturing Association of Central New York, where we’re working with New York State on their P-TECH initiative. This six-year program starts in ninth grade and works with local businesses to provide mentors. This manufacturing track continues through two years of community college. There are 60 ninth graders in Syracuse in the program with the goal to help these students segue from high school to community college and emerge with an associate degree in mechanical and electrical engineering and be ready for high tech manufacturing jobs. The P-TECH program continues to chart new territory in the reform of secondary and postsecondary education in the United States. We see it as a very positive concept from a manufacturing workforce development perspective.