Forward to the Future: Taking a Look at AgBioScience
Rowan County knows its food! Blessed with abundant water supplies from creeks and rivers and good soil in much of the county, our county thrives on and celebrates its long history of farming. Nowhere is that more evident in mid-summer than a drive through western Rowan, where fields of tall green corn meet each other, covering the landscape.
Today, we are stepping out into new ag-based fields, blossoming in the food production and biosciences industry. It is the food of the future, with plant-based food sales growing at an exponential rate.
Business Facilities, a national magazine specializing in the site selection marketplace, named Rowan County No. 7 in its ranking of food processing in a recently published issue, based on past success and future growth.
It helps to be smack in the middle of an agricultural-driven state. North Carolina’s agriculture and agribusinesses, including increasingly popular agritourism, accounts for $87 billion of the state’s annual GNP and 17 percent of all state jobs. Farmers grow more than 90 crop varieties in 400 different soil types, making the state a Top 10 producer in 19 commodities. The state is the third most diverse agricultural economy in the U.S.
Making Foods of the Future
Rowan County is also blessed to have the new North Carolina Food Innovation Lab (NCFIL) right here, where it actively promotes the idea: “Let’s Make the Foods of the Future.”
The lab is based in the David H. Murdock Research Institute, 150 N. Research Campus Drive, Kannapolis. The pilot plan works with established food companies and growth-phase entrepreneurs to research, develop and market their plant-based food concepts.
The lab has brought together the latest in food processing equipment, expert food scientists, and partners from across the state to help food companies and entrepreneurs get their products to market quickly and efficiently.
It is currently offering:
- Product research and development, to move product from an idea to a delicious result.
- Pilot plant production, operated under rigorous hygienic conditions to make sure products meet the highest requirements for quality, purity, and strength.
- Training and workshops, with information on funding a food business in N.C., requirements for facilities, packaging requirements, and using by-products of manufacturing.
- Food-industry consulting, offered remotely and in person, with guidance on market trends and research, business planning, sales strategy, regulatory requirements, and more.
It is the region’s only facility with the FDA’s current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) capabilities dedicated to supporting the plant-based food innovators of tomorrow. It has state-of-the-art equipment to process grains, fruits, vegetables, and raw plant materials. The Product Development Lab and Test Kitchen are staffed by food scientists and support formulation adjustment and sensory analysis to get food tasting just right.
State Research Facility in Place
Rowan County is home to one of the state’s 18 research stations, the Piedmont Research Station located on Sherrills Ford Road. It provides farm testing and application on more than 1,000 acres of land dedicated to research-based solutions in four research units:
- Field crops
Up and Running
We can point to many success stories already, based on the hard work of goal-oriented businessmen and innovative farmers. Here are examples:
- Carolina Malt House, 22969 Statesville Blvd., Cleveland, making malt from Carolina grown barley and selling to Southeastern breweries. This year, the young company won a medal in a competition to make the best malt at the international Craft Maltsters Conference. It promotes “Tasting the Carolina-Grown Difference” and sells locally to New Serum Brewing Co. And Morgan Ridge Railway Brewery.
- Cheerwine, the Salisbury-based manufacturer of a uniquely Southern cherry soda, in business with the same family for more than 100 years. Rowan County celebrates this homegrown success story with the Cheerwine Festival each summer, billed as “The South’s Cheeriest Gathering” and attended by thousands.
- Patterson Farm, 10390 Caldwell Road, Mount Ulla, and 3060 Millbridge Road, China Grove. Patterson Farm Market and Tours, committed to educating children and adults about their food source, the importance of agriculture, and specifically about the crops that grow at Patterson Farm, Inc., welcomes more than 25,000 visitors each year. The Patterson family has been operating Patterson Farm for more than 125 years, growing and packing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, poinsettias, pumpkins, and other crops for grocery stores, wholesalers, fresh markets, and other outlets. They operate one of the largest tomato-growing farms in the state.
- Rockwell Farms, 6055 NC-152, Rockwell. The family-owned business has 36 acres of environmentally controlled greenhouse space and is ranked as the 45th largest greenhouse grower in the U.S. The company sells floral products — 5.3 million spring annuals, 1 million fall mums, and 500,000 poinsettias each year.
- Food Lion, with corporate headquarters at 2110 Executive Drive, Salisbury, operates more than 1,000 grocery areas in 10 states and the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, employing more than 88,000 associates. Its focus is fresh, affordable food.
- Hexagon Agility, 1010 Corporate Center Drive, is a leading provider of highly engineered and cost-effective clean fuels that reduce greenhouse gas and other air emissions. The company promotes “clean air everywhere through sustainable transportation solutions.”
- Innospec, LLC, 500 Hinkle Lane, manufacturer of innovative agrichemicals for crop protection, plant nutrition, soil improvers, tank-mix adjuvants, wood preservatives, and animal health.
In addition to labs and research, there are sound economic reasons why Rowan County will continue to excel in ag-based fields. The Rowan Economic Development Council is actively promoting AgBioScience and recently produced a brochure on the opportunities here.
- Easy access to major Interstates 85, 40, and 77 for product transportation domestically and abroad and supply chain security and flexibility.
- Two major international airports are 45 minutes away, with Mid-Carolina Regional Airport in the county.
- Accessible shipping ports in Wilmington and Elizabeth City in North Carolina and Charleston in South Carolina.
- We are at the center of the 3,200-mile East Coast Rail Network.
- The Yadkin River flows along our boundary, with a surplus of 8.7 million gallons of water per day (GPD), a perfect situation for food processing plants. We are water-rich and so proud of it, thanks to the foresight of local government leaders who, for many, many years, have understood the value of that water. The Yadkin generates an average daily flow of 2 billion gallons per day.
- Rowan has 5 business parks and more than 2,000 acres of developable land.
- Training is supported by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, which provides high-quality economic and workforce development for the biotech and life sciences industries across the state through education, training, and laboratory resources.
- Rowan Cabarrus Community College offers an Associate in Applied Science degree in BioTechnology at the college’s facility at the NC Research Campus, Kannapolis. The Rowan-Salisbury School System offers career academies in agriculture, entrepreneurship, and advanced manufacturing.
- Business costs in North Carolina are among the lowest in the nation, with reliable, low-cost electricity, construction costs, competitive labor costs, and a low cost of living.
- The state has the lowest corporate income tax in the U.S., as well as a favorable legal and regulatory environment.
- Rowan County has access to one of the largest pools of potential workers.
There may be “money on the ground” coming toward Rowan County in The American Jobs Plan, now before Congress, and it is good news for all of us who travel on roads and bridges that the North Carolina Department of Transportation has declared structurally deficient.