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Governor: Boost Food Industry

by Michael Rose
Salem Statesman Journal - January 22, 2004

Processors and farms are vital to a regional recovery, Kulongoski says.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski said Wednesday that the road to economic recovery starts in farm country and that he would help food processors and farmers overcome obstacles.

Kulongoski, along with Washington Gov. Gary Locke, said that supporting the “bedrock industries” of food processing and agriculture was vital to the Northwest. The governors made the remarks to representatives of the food-processing industry who gathered at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland for a food-processing trade show.

“We cannot succeed as a state without a thriving agriculture sector — and we cannot have a thriving agriculture sector without the added value you give to the food our farmers produce,” Kulongoski said. In Oregon, agriculture and food processing combined generate an estimated $8 billion worth of economic activity annually, he said.

Oregon’s governor said the state needs to focus on tackling the largest barriers facing the food-processing industry and the farmers supplying its crops. At the top of the Kulongoski’s to-do list:

Resolving the long-running dispute about unionizing farmworkers. Unlike most employers, farmers in Oregon are not required to bargain with unions. The governor’s attempt to get labor representatives and agricultural employers to reach an agreement went nowhere in the last session.

“I tell you, I’m not giving up,” Kulongoski said.

Encouraging cities to discuss ways to reduce the high cost of water and sewer services for food processors. Federal regulations, which the state has no control of, largely are to blame for the high costs. But the governor said he would encourage a dialogue to look for solutions to high water and sewer bills.

Reviewing how property taxes are assessed on food-processing plants and equipment. The state should look for ways to reduce tax assessments on food-processing equipment or consider other tax relief to help food processors, he said.

“You’re not only on my agenda for 2005. You are high on my agenda,” Kulongoski told the audience at the Northwest Food Manufacturing and Packaging Expo.

Kulongoski’s speech addressed several of the key complaints raised by Northwest food processors, who have seen their numbers dwindle as global competition and tiny profit margins cause processing lines to be idled.

“I thought it was encouraging that he voiced support for our industry and recognized the link between a healthy agricultural economy and food processing,” said George Crispin, president and chief executive officer of Rainsweet Inc., a Salem company that packs frozen fruits and vegetables.

“I thought it was just excellent. I was frankly impressed,” said David Truitt, co-owner of Truitt Brothers Inc., a Salem-based food packer. Kulongoski addressed the core problems facing the industry, he said.

Labor leader Ramon Ramirez, president of the Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, better known by its Spanish acronym PCUN, said his group was pleased by the governor’s attention to farmworkers and unionization.

But Ramirez said that any system to bring collective bargaining to Oregon farms would have to have assurances that once workers decided to unionize, there would be good-faith bargaining and a contract in the end.

Locke called for increased training to “close the skills gap” and make the Northwest food-processing and agriculture industry more competitive. He emphasized the need to develop more energy sources and repeated his opposition to proposals to breech several Columbia and Snake River dams, which has been considered as a means to improve the survival rate of salmon.

“Too many of our (food-processing) plants have been forced to close,” Locke said.

Michael Rose
Governor: Boost Food Industry
Salem Statesman Journal, January 22, 2004

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