Food for thought

“You don’t have steel, you don’t have a country.”

— Donald Trump, March 2018

Can we make American manufacturing great again? The conflicting experts in the field rarely have the food and beverage industries in mind when they conduct their endless debates on the question. Maybe they should.

American manufacturing now marches more on its stomach. Almost as many manufacturing workers make food as make metals or metallic products. Food manufacturing (NAICS 311) now employs close to as many people in this country — 1,625,200 as of February 2018, seasonally adjusted — as do the prized primary metal manufacturing and fabricated metals manufacturing industries combined (NAICS 331-332), which employ 1,849,500. Food manufacturing employment has been going up, metal manufacturing jobs down.

Total American manufacturing lost more than a million jobs in the past decade. In January 2008 the United States had 13.725 million workers in all manufacturing jobs, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In January of this year manufacturing employment was 12.555 million.


Food manufacturing, a bright spot, employed 125,800 more people in January 2018 than it employed in January 2008. In that same period, the metals manufacturing and fabricating industries lost 168,400 jobs.

In more recent years, American manufacturing jobs have been coming back at a pace of about 100,000 a year. There’s been talk — and now tariffs are coming — of reshoring and protecting jobs in metals manufacturing. It is our national identity, our president tells us. But will metals tariffs create more jobs than they destroy?

In the past five years, the home-grown jobs gained in food manufacturing have constituted 30 percent of the additional manufacturing jobs. These numbers don’t include the smaller but recently much more rapidly growing beverage manufacturing industry.

Both regionally and nationally, the food and beverage sector — not including the twelve million service jobs in eating and drinking places — has been creating new American manufacturing jobs. According to the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation, which runs a support “alliance” for these industries, the number of people employed in this sector grew by nearly 20 percent from 2010 to 2014 to 57,000. The craft beverage business has been especially active. More than half the Ulster County members of the Hudson Valley Food & Beverage Alliance are on the beverage side.


The saga of the building containing the old Woolworth’s five-and-dime in Kingston’s now-up-and-coming Stockade neighborhood continues. Last month, 311 Wall was sold by owner Zach Lewis and his family to 311 Wall Street LLC for $2,225,000. The buyer, a New York City-based development firm managed by Neil Bender, has added several properties in northern Dutchess County to its extensive holdings in lower Manhattan. Other Bender-managed LLCs have bought the former Yallum’s property next door to 311 Wall at 317 Wall and the Cioni building on Crown Street, administrative headquarters of the local school district.

Now what? BBG Ventures, the operating entity which now has a 20-year lease with two five-year options on 311 Wall, has been struggling for almost four years to bring an ambitious agribusiness retail and manufacturing food operation to the premises. With a new owner of the building, BBG majority partner Ben Giardullo says he is scrambling to get clarity on the investment package that he needs to make his enterprise happen. He hopes for progress in the next few weeks.

Updated August 2017 job numbers for BBG Ventures submitted to the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency forecast 65 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs by the third year of operation, 40 of them professional, managerial or skilled workers whose average pay plus benefits were estimated at around $54,000 a year.


311 Wall is not the location of the only new food enterprise proposed in the City of Kingston. The Cornell Creative Business and Arts Center at 139 Cornell Street in Midtown Kingston opened last week. With eleven artisan work spaces and a shared shipping and receiving warehouse, the new Arc of Ulster-Greene manufacturing and distribution facility has converted some of the sprawling space formerly occupied by hundreds of workers in an IBM subcontracting operation to a new use. “It was a workshop that morphed into a business space,” Arc CEO John McHugh explained at the opening.

The companies using the space at the artisan food production work center will receive reduced operating costs in return for hiring individuals with a disability. “We want to change the way people with disabilities are seen, and the businesses we brought into the Cornell Creative Business Center share the same values and appreciation as we do,” Arc business executive and former Hurley town supervisor Gary Bellows said. “Our goal is to get at least a quarter of people with disabilities back working and earning a paycheck.”

Five businesses put out their signs for the opening celebration. CurrantC uses ten acres of black currants grown in Clinton in Dutchess County to produce its products.  Edenesque manufactures and sells artisanal nut milks and associated products. A New Paltz couple owns Grok Bites, which make fruit and nut bites. Hemp Home Store is run by Kingston resident Brad Beckerman, an original BBG Ventures partner at 311 Wall Street who said that after three years he got tired of waiting for that facility to open. Ram’s Valley sells a line of sauces, rubs, condiments, juices and other products.

When Bradley Beckerman provided samples of his wares this past Monday, it was not in the basement of 311 Wall as previously planned but at Cornell Creative. Originally from New York City by way of Colorado, Beckerman now lives on Maiden Lane in Kingston.

Hemp balls were arranged on a plate on a table in a small room that will serve as the office of Beckerman’s Hemp Home Store at the March 5 opening. The product consisted of a dense concoction of dates, hemp seeds and cinnamon. A small sign assured that the hemp balls would soon be available with 35 milligrams of hemp-derived cannabis. Hemp Home Store will use a room next to this office for manufacturing, and another room down the hall for labeling, packaging and distribution.

The number of jobs unveiled at the five startups at the Cornell Creative opening constitute only a small fraction of what Ben Giardullo has been proposing at 311 Wall. In the expanding universe of entrepreneurial food manufacturing, there’s room for more than one business model and more than one business size.

There is one comment

  1. Buy American Campaign

    It’s true that we wrongly do not think of food manufacturing when talking about American manufacturing. Manufacturing in the USA is important whatever the product made. There have been several instances of imported food causing illness or death because the manufacturing standards were too low.

    Let’s make sure to buy all our products from American manufacturing plants and help keep Americans in good paying jobs.

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