From pumpkin farm to $500 million agri-business hub in Genesee County

By James Fink
Buffalo Business First

Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park (Joed Viera/Buffalo Business First)

A decade ago, 250 acres just off Route 5 in the Town of Batavia were known as a large pumpkin farm in Genesee County.

Then along came the Genesee County Economic Development Center, the county's development arm, with a vision. With agri-business coming into its own, Steve Hyde, agency president and CEO, and Chris Suozzi, vice president of business and workforce development, made a bold decision.

Genesee County needed to develop a central hub for the growing number of agri-business manufacturers in the region. The Batavia pumpkin farm offered the land, a ready workforce and the location – close to the New York State Thruway.

Fast-forward 10 years, and the $500 million Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park is almost full. Nearly 1,000 people work there.

Suozzi calls Genesee County "the hub of Western New York's milk shed," and here's why:

• Upstate Niagara Cooperative Inc. recently acquired the 27,000-square-foot former Alpina Foods LLC plant to produce Greek yogurt. That plant will be operational in early 2021.

• HP Hood's milk-production plant opened in 2018 and this year shipped 100 million gallons of milk from the facility. The plant also produces some cheese and supermarket-friendly extended shelf life products, but milk is its primary product, Hyde said.

"Think about that, 100 million gallons of milk made and shipped from Batavia in two years," Hyde said.

• In Pembroke’s Buffalo East Technology Park, Yancey’s Fancy Cheese Co. operates a 112,000-square-foot plant to produce more than 30 varieties of artisan cheese that are sold globally in retail outlets and to food distributors. Yancey’s Fancy invested $18.2 million to build the plant, which opened in 2013 and has more than 150 people working there. The plant runs on two shifts. Last year, the company added a series of robotic arms that can fill 14 different cheese products at any one time.

Companies like the central location of Genesee County, said Michael Patterson, Upstate Niagara chief financial and administration officer.

"From here, we can get to our core market," Patterson said. "Batavia and Genesee County is really the heartland of New York's dairy production industry. What has been developed here is logical."

Suozzi said Genesee County learned how to be nimble. When Alpina announced plans to closed its yogurt plant, the agency reached out to companies such as Upstate Niagara to gauge interest. And when Mueller Dairy closed its Batavia plant, HP Hood, based Lynnfield, Mass., was contacted.

"We learned the park was a very powerful asset," Hyde said. "Agri-business has been a great, targeted industry for not only the county, but the entire region. People in Buffalo and Rochester benefit from what we've created here."

This article originally appeared in Buffalo Business First.