If Tri-City visionaries get their way, we soon could be home to think tanks focused on ways to support the agriculture and energy sectors.
That’s welcome news in a region where the two industries help to bolster our economy.
Plans to establish an Agricultural Innovation Center were announced at Tri-City Development Council’s annual Economic Outlook event this month in Kennewick. (See story on page A1.)
We’re well positioned to launch such an innovation center as our region is a powerhouse for food processing.
We’re already home to processing giants like Lamb Weston, which turns potatoes into french fries for the world market. Reser’s Fine Foods opened a $120 million food processing plant last fall to transform mashed potatoes into deli dishes.
The number of food and beverage manufacturers operating in Benton and Franklin counties increased to 121 in 2021, nearly double the total from 2004, according to Benton-Franklin Trends data.
Darigold is building a $500 million milk processing plant in Pasco, and Local Bounti Inc., a Montana-based ag tech startup, recently applied for a $3.5 million permit to build a giant greenhouse to grow lettuce in Pasco.
An ag-focused innovation center would help the Mid-Columbia support research and problem-solving as the world’s need for food and how it is produced grows.
Agriculture was worth more than $1.6 billion to Benton and Franklin counties in 2017, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture data.
The total acreage of the state’s top five crops – apples, potatoes, sweet corn, onions and grapes – in the bicounty area was more than 172,000 acres.
The announcement about the Ag Innovation Center comes on the heels of the December news of plans to establish an energy institute at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland.
Gov. Jay Inslee seeks $10 million to fund the energy institute that will tap into WSU’s network of research institutes, including the bioscience facilities on the Richland campus.
We’ve said it before: we’re uniquely situated to become the regional, if not national, capital of clean energy development, thanks to our abundant energy resources – hydro, nuclear, wind, solar and biomass.
We feel we can issue the same boast about an ag-focused innovation center. We have the right ingredients: fertile and efficient farms, big food processors, a well-positioned transportation network, and an experienced workforce.