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Food Production A Bright Spot In Gloomy Economy

For cheesemakers, dairy farmers and vegetable growers, the slow economy has brought opportunities to expand while construction costs are low.

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- While the recession took a toll on manufacturing and other industries, one part of the economy has remained a bright spot over the past few years: food production.

Across the nation, food producers are seeing enough growth that many are expanding and investing in new equipment.

For cheesemakers, dairy farmers and vegetable growers, the slow economy has brought opportunities to expand while construction costs are low. Food makers have also benefited from having products that consumers still buy in hard times and from ongoing efforts to open up new markets overseas.

The result is growth -- both in sales and in facilities. The expansions include cheese-making operations in Wisconsin and Idaho and a sweet potato canning plant in Arkansas. Hershey Co. is spending $200 million to expand and update a plant in its namesake town in Pennsylvania, and General Mills Inc. has been pouring millions into yogurt plants in Michigan and Tennessee.

"Even in tough economic times, people are still going to buy groceries," said Barbara Gannon, a spokeswoman for Wisconsin-based Sargento Foods Inc.

While Chrysler, General Motors and other companies tied to the auto industry have closed factories in Wisconsin in recent years, Sargento is among the food makers expanding there. It's adding a multi-million-dollar building to its headquarters in Plymouth.

Sargento is the fifth local cheese company to expand in the past five years, Plymouth Mayor Don Pohlman said. Their growth makes his job easier when it comes to attracting other companies, he said.
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