Food manufacturers are truly recession-proof

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By Ken Niezgoda,
Biz Reporter

The “Recession-Proof” label is typically attached to the health care industry, yet the industry that experienced Oregon’s largest percentage growth in employment last year was Food Manufacturing. With 1800 new jobs added in the past year, Food Manufacturing increased its workforce 7.9 percent, according to current employment statistics released by the Oregon Employment Department.

Manufacturing employment as a whole dropped 8.3 percent, according to the report. Food Manufacturing saw its largest employment growth in the Food and Vegetable Preserving and Specialty sub-category. The increase is consistent with the philosophy that consumers are putting their dollars into basic products and services.

“Our first quarter sales increased 68 percent,” said Terry Lusetti, director of investor relations for YoCream International, a Portland-based food processor.  The company has experienced record earnings and Lusetti said they expect continued growth this year. “We’re hiring production people and sales and marketing people.”

Growth during a recession opens the door to a lot of opportunities for companies that can take advantage of a climate in which many products and services are being discounted, such as real estate. Growing unemployment has also created an opportunity for industries such as health care and food manufacturing to hire talent that may not have been available in the past.

“More people are applying for jobs, and talented people are willing to take positions that they normally wouldn’t have considered,” said Lusetti sympathetically. “It’s fortunate for us, but it is also very sad.”

While Food Manufacturing has seen positive employment growth, the Oregon restaurant industry is losing employees. Restaurants are Oregon’s largest private sector employer. According to the Oregon report, Food Services and Drinking Places category lost 1400 jobs in 2008.