Alabama is well positioned to set the regional table with food products. Half of the U.S. population resides within a day’s drive of the state, and there are 160 metropolitan areas within a 600-mile radius of its interstate system. Alabama has 8.9 million acres of farmland and nearly 100,000 food processing industry workers. Key Alabama players in this industry are Tyson, Zeigler, Southeastern Meats, Buffalo Rock Co., Mayfield Dairy Farms and Coca-Cola Bottling Co. United. Food processing exports in the state increased from about $123 million in 2000 to more than $466 million in 2014, with the potential for more gains as companies like Golden State Foods enter the scene. The California-based company plans to invest up to $45 million in a new facility in Northeast Opelika Industrial Park, creating 170 jobs. The plant will be responsible for 25 percent of McDonald’s meat products across the nation.
Food processing companies in Alabama also enjoy an array of workforce advantages. AIDT, Alabama’s premier workforce development agency, provides management systems at no cost to employers or trainees. One-stop permitting facilitated by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, more than 400 industrial and commercial buildings for sale or lease, and 400-plus prepared industrial parks, green field sites and reusable property all help foster food production in Alabama.
Alabama hosts several universities working on research and development for the food processing industry. Auburn University, Alabama A&M and Tuskegee University all offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in food science, teaching students concepts of chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, engineering and nutrition used to develop and produce foods that are safe, palatable, healthy and economical.