Business

Update: French-fry maker Lamb Weston setting up in Eagle in November

Lamb Weston’s Eagle office will be corporate headquarters for the new company. The company says its operation won’t change much, though the spinoff will mean high-level executive jobs will move from ConAgra headquarters in Chicago to Eagle.
Lamb Weston’s Eagle office will be corporate headquarters for the new company. The company says its operation won’t change much, though the spinoff will mean high-level executive jobs will move from ConAgra headquarters in Chicago to Eagle. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

A new corporate heavyweight will join Micron, the Simplot Co., Albertsons and other influential companies calling the Treasure Valley home.

Lamb Weston is in the process of spinning out of food manufacturing giant ConAgra into its own, publicly traded company, specializing in manufacturing and distributing fries and other frozen potato products. At nearly $3 billion in annual revenues, Lamb Weston would probably be the sixth-largest company based in Idaho when it becomes a stand-alone company Nov. 1.

Without knowing much about the new company’s plans, adding another corporate player to the Valley can only portend good things for the business and nonprofit world, said Bill Connors, Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

“Anytime you add high-end jobs, everybody is positively impacted,” Connors said. “For local charities, car dealerships, real estate agents, banks, retailers, you name it, that’s a good thing.”

Lamb Weston is the largest domestic frozen potato product supplier, as well as the second-largest in the world. Its international portfolio touches more than 100 countries. Though spuds make up the majority of its sales, the company will also retain ConAgra’s frozen sweet potato, appetizer and other vegetable products business. ConAgra will keep its consumer foods segment that includes Marie Callender’s, Hunt’s, Slim Jim, Orville Redenbacher’s, P.F. Chang’s and Healthy Choice. The split will allow each company to better specialize their operations and be more nimble, driving shareholder value, ConAgra said in a release.

Located at 599 S. Rivershore Lane, the Eagle office houses employees working in sales and marketing, as well as human relations, communications and finance, ConAgra spokeswoman Shelby Stoolman said. Most of the company’s potato buying and much of its processing happens in the Tri-Cities area in Washington, where it employs more than 4,000 people. With 321 corporate positions in Kennewick, Wash., it is one of the city’s top five private employers. .

The company has 1,300 Idaho employees split between its Eagle office and manufacturing plants in Twin Falls and American Falls, Stoolman said.

The Eagle office, which was selected over Kennewick as company headquarters, will receive high-level executives moving from ConAgra headquarters in Chicago, Stoolman said. But for the most part, she said, the same Eagle employees will perform the same tasks as before the split.

“Fundamentally, we’re not really changing the way we operate,” Stoolman said.

THE COMPANIES THAT BUILT BOISE

The Valley — and Boise especially — has benefited from corporate leaders using their money and influence to build a better community, said Clark Krause, Boise Valley Economic Partnership executive director.

ConAgra’s charitable efforts have focused on curbing childhood hunger. According to the company’s website, the company’s Hunger-Free Summer program dispersed meals to more than 46,000 children through food banks. Stoolman said it’s too early to say whether Lamb Weston has a plan for charitable giving.

Kathryn Albertson Park, Ann Morrison Park and Esther Simplot Park are all named after wives of founders who backed park development. Foundations started by founder families built the M.K. Nature Center, Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, the Morrison Center and Jack’s Urban Meeting Place. Micron’s name adorns buildings at Boise State University and the College of Western Idaho.

The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, which has given millions to education causes each year, has taken on open space preservation as a secondary cause. The foundation has recently contributed to construction of Boise’s Rhodes Skate Park, a terrain park at Bogus Basin and purchasing the property for the Hillside to Hollow trail on the Foothills.

Like the city of Boise, Minneapolis, Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn., were shaped by corporate leaders, resulting in richer and better planned communities, Krause said. Cities without that kind of corporate involvement, such as Albuquerque, N.M., where Krause used to live, lack those benefits, he said.

“Those Boise companies left us with a string of beautiful parks, lots of arts and culture, an incredible downtown and plenty of other things,” Krause said. “You don’t have to guess much what a good corporate headquarters town looks like.”

The Valley business and nonprofit world takes a hit when companies such as Morrison-Knudsen leave, said Nora Carpenter, president and CEO of United Way Treasure Valley. Most obviously, donations from that corporation, its foundation, executives and employee base decline, she said. But losing executives that serve on nonprofit boards and lead volunteer networks also hurt, she said.

FILLING THE VOID

The Valley refills that void every time companies and their executives relocate here, she said. But it is already seeing the next generation of homegrown companies become big enough to influence the city, such as Bodybuilding.com, which has paid for several outdoor, weight-free workout centers in city parks, Carpenter said. Krause brought up another Boise company, Clearwater Analytics, which just paid for and opened the Clearwater Building in Downtown Boise.

“Talk about loving your community,” Krause said. “I doubt you’d see that beautiful building if those guys weren’t firmly rooted here.”

The type of corporate jobs at the Eagle office are typically high-paying, which bolsters the community, said Garth Taylor, agriculture economist at University of Idaho. Lamb Weston said it isn’t relocating food-manufacturing jobs here from Washington state, but if ever does, Taylor said he’s wary that new jobs here will benefit the region.

In the past 18 years, Idaho has added major food manufacturing employers, such as Clif Bar and Chobani’s biggest-in-the-world yogurt plant in Twin Falls, and Materne’s GoGo squeeZ applesauce snack plant in Nampa. Yet employment in Idaho’s food manufacturing sector has been nearly flat over the last 18 years, Taylor said. Increased automation and consolidation usually mean fewer jobs, not more.

“All of the ribbon-cutting ceremonies are wonderful, but for every one of those, it means others are going away,” Taylor said. “There’s no uncutting ribbon ceremonies when Heinz consolidates or sells to Annie’s Kitchens. Or Simplot consolidates from 800 potato-processing jobs in three to 300 in one and still processes the same amount of potatoes.”

Corporate HQs in the Valley

No comprehensive list exists for all local companies or their revenues. Here’s where an independent Lamb Weston will likely fall on the list of the Treasure Valley’s publicly traded companies — which have to disclose revenues by law — and other private companies that have disclosed their revenues to the Statesman in the past year.

Want to see your company listed? Email business@idahostatesman.com or tweet @IDS_zachkyle with your annual revenue and we’ll update our list.

Company

City

2015 revenue

Albertsons Cos.

Boise

$58.7 billion

Micron Technology Inc.

Boise

$16.2 billion

Winco Foods

Boise

*$6 billion

J.R. Simplot Co.

Boise

$5.8 billion

Boise Cascade Co.

Boise

$3.8 billion

Lamb Weston (this fall)

Eagle

$2.9 billion

Jackson Food Stores

Meridian

$2.5 billion

Idacorp (Idaho Power)

Boise

$1.3 billion

*estimated by Supermarket News

Lamb Weston

President and CEO: Tom Werner, formerly head of commercial food operations for ConAgra

Headquarters: Eagle

Revenue: $2.9 billion (2015)

Business: Global frozen potato products supplier

NYSE ticker: LW (pending separation from ConAgra)

History: Formed in 1950 in Weston, Ore. Frank “Gib” Lamb started Lamb Weston as a frozen pea company, but soon branched into the frozen potato market, where Lamb was an early pioneer of consumer processing techniques. The company opened its first potato processing plant in American Falls, and added additional plants in the Northwest until it was the largest U.S. processor of frozen potato products. It’s been a subsidiary of ConAgra, which has annual total revenue of almost $12 billion, since 1988.

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