Cities and towns interested in erecting spec buildings to attract industry may wish to consider targeting the food industry. Here, benefits would include a tendency towards job intensity, higher skills and wages, and an appetite for water, sewer, gas, and electric. Moreover, food manufacturing is not cyclical, sensitive to economic swings, and unlikely to migrate offshore chasing low cost labor.
Build it, and They Will Come?
The first step in this pursuit begins with the building itself. Contrary to common practice, the facility should be linear, not square, and designed for lateral expansions. Linear runs of 600’ or more are critical for high throughput manufacturing efficiency, where volume is the antidote to thin margins. Food safety is also vital, and increasingly requiring sealed concrete walls, no pre- existing floors, stainless-wrapped columns, and nominal, if any, critter friendly landscaping. Though perhaps not intuitive, these features collectively provide for efficient line of sight production; an interior able to provide for extensive automation, gravity flow mix mezzanines, an interstitial space over critical production areas, and most importantly, a bespoke layout that can be nuanced to product flow, food safety, and line flexibility.
Retrofitting Increasingly Not Feasible
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of targeting the food sector lies in the industry’s dilemma of producing low margin products efficiently yet safely. Historically, expansion or relocation involved identifying, acquiring, and retrofitting a second generation food facility. The current environment makes this challenging, however, as the vast supply of pre-existing facilities are either functionally obsolete (too low, too square, too small, too landlocked), or the cost of upgrading the interiors to meet evolving food safety regulations is prohibitive. If so, the only three alternatives left are to expand in place, if possible; buy a greenfield site and build new; or identify a suitable non-food facility for conversion to a higher use.
Increasingly, a food-friendly spec building is the best alternative. Efficiencies are achieved through the linear configuration, and virgin interiors eliminate the food safety concerns of existing food plants. Moreover, the availability of an improved site, existing entitlements, a completed concrete shell, and some level of pre-permitting all provide speed-to-market advantages over greenfield construction. Communities might further differentiate themselves by leveraging location specific attributes (low cost power, available municipal capacity, access to commodities or ingredients), a utopian transportation network or consumer demographic, or the availability of a committed and “regulatory friendly” economic development team.
In sum, we see a glaring inefficiency between demand for efficient and compliant food grade space, and supply, particularly in light of the volume and sanitary challenges preexisting food plants present. Where demand exceeds supply, market forces typically step in to create an equilibrium, but such has not been the case in the global food industry. If so, what better time to get ahead of the curve, and consider designing a spec building for food grade occupancy. For more information, contact us.