Before he first came to Twin Falls, Chobani Inc. founder Hamdi Ulukaya knew little more about the city than that daredevil Evel Knievel once took an ill-fated flight over the Snake River Canyon here. Idaho, he said, was a place where people did crazy things.
So he said he decided to do a crazy thing: Build what his company says is the worlds largest yogurt plant and complete it in less than a year. The craziest of all, we actually did it, Ulukaya said.
On Monday, Ulukaya and nearly 1,000 other people gathered in a large tent in the shadow of Chobanis nearly one million-square-foot plant to dedicate its opening.
Yogurt production is already under way. The company says more than 300 people are employed there, and Gov. Butch Otter said the plant is expected to hire 400 to 500 people in all. It is expected to use 4 to 5 million pounds of milk each day and eventually turn out 2.4 million cases of Greek yogurt a week.
All those numbers could play a significant role in Idahos economy.
Idaho dairymen, for example, have faced skyrocketing costs for feed the past few years, plunging many of them into red ink. Chobanis presence in Idaho, however, has already boosted the price of milk across the state by $1 or so per hundredweight to $18.50, a break-even to slightly profitable range, said Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairy Association.
Moreover, Chobanis demand for milk will help reduce the states abundant supply, which averages 1.5 million pounds a month. Dairy is the states largest agricultural business.
Chobani began produc-ing yogurt five years ago after Ulukaya, a native of Turkey, bought a failed yogurt plant in central New York. Chobani is derived from the Greek word for chopani, which means shepherd. The yogurt has proved popular. It is thicker, more protein-packed and less sweet than most U.S. brands, which Chobani says often have the equivalent of a candy bar in sugar content.
Chobani officials say they were attracted to Idaho for five reasons: the power, the milk, the water, the capacity and the people.
I cant thank you enough for building Chobani in Idaho, Gov. Butch Otter told Ulukaya. And he pledged the backing of people from Twin Falls to help make the plant a success. They will be here whenever you need them.
Otter said the state worked quickly to meet Chobanis needs because state government is moving at the speed of business, a phrase used by Jeff Sayer, his commerce director, to describe how the state is trying to accommodate businesses. Ulukaya agreed, saying Idaho seemed to anticipate the companys needs.
The state is paying up to $3.3 million to train workers at an average cost of $5,700 per person. According to a Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency presentation in Lewiston reported by the Lewiston Tribune, the company received a $17.5 million package of tax-increment financing for land acquisition and $6.75 million in sewer and water infrastructure from Twin Falls.
What would have been Chobani's share of new property taxes generated by the plant will go almost entirely to repaying the $17.5 million over 20 years. The only property taxes Chobani will pay during that time will be for school bonds, which means it will contribute $6 million for a new high school in Twin Falls.
Today marks not only the opening of the worlds largest yogurt plant but symbolizes the revitalization of U.S. manufacturing, said Ulukaya, who is also president and CEO, in prepared remarks. We believe that no other yogurt facility is comparable to the size, technology and efficiency displayed in our new Twin Falls site.
The original plant in central New York will continue to operate at full capacity, Ulukaya said, and will serve the eastern U.S.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts