Governor Andrew Cuomo said he wants New York to become the yogurt capital of the U.S., just as California’s Silicon Valley has grown to dominate the global high-tech industry.
New York is home to 29 yogurt plants, up from 14 in 2000, Cuomo said today in Albany at the state’s first Yogurt Summit. The 54-year-old Democrat organized the event to bring together dairy farmers and industry leaders, including New Berlin, New York-based Chobani Inc., which produces Greek-style yogurt.
Cuomo said he wants to develop a so-called “cluster economy” around yogurt production to bring jobs to upstate New York, where the poverty rate rose to 13 percent in 2008 from 11 percent in 2000, according to a 2011 report by Cornell University.
“There’s a business advantage to being together, like Silicon Valley,” Cuomo said. “These cluster economies don’t just happen. It doesn’t come down from space. Maybe they begin randomly, but then they are planned, developed and facilitated.”
New York’s $8.9 billion dairy industry employed 8,070 people and paid $414 million in wages last year, a 14 percent increase from 2005. At the summit, Cuomo announced a regulation change that will allow farms to have as many as 300 cows, rather than 200, before having to meet manure-discharge regulations that can cost farmers thousands of dollars.
Yogurt is a tart-tasting dairy product made from fermented milk, usually from cows but sometimes goats or yaks. Greek yogurt requires three times more milk than traditional yogurt, according to Cuomo’s office.
PepsiCo Inc. and the Theo Muller Group of Germany said Aug. 2 they will open a 350,000-square-foot yogurt-production plant in Batavia to be run by their joint venture, Muller Quaker Dairy LLC. They picked the western New York city because it’s “situated in one of the nation’s most concentrated milk-producing and processing regions,” according to a statement e-mailed by PepsiCo, which is based downstate in Purchase.
The companies are investing $206 million in the plant. New York is providing about $13 million in tax breaks as well as a $1 million grant. Genesee County is giving $12 million in tax breaks.
At the summit, the possibility of New York finding other ways to work with the dairy and yogurt industries to remove barriers fueled talk of New York becoming the world capital of yogurt production.
“We must work together, government and business,” said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat. “If we make it our mission, there is no reason why we can’t make New York the yogurt capital of the United States, if not the world.”