With new specialty and health food products entering the market every day, the food processing and manufacturing cluster, as defined by the U.S. Cluster Mapping Project from Harvard Business School, Harvard University, Boston, Mass., is growing. And, it’s more than just Wisconsin’s dairy and cheese plants.

Data on top-employing states presented by Emsi, Moscow, Idaho, reveals the cluster grew by double digits from 2014-2018, with nearly every state showing a significant food processing and manufacturing presence.

Seven of the 10 states with the most food processing and manufacturing jobs saw at least 11% growth from 2014-2018. Washington led the Top 10 with 17% job growth, followed by Texas at 16%.

States outside the Top 10 have also seen huge growth in food processing and manufacturing. For instance, New Hampshire jumped from under 2,500 jobs in this cluster in 2014 to nearly 3,200 in 2018, a 32% uptick. Arizona saw a 31% increase, with Connecticut (29%), South Carolina (28%) and Colorado (23%) not far behind.

Here are a few highlights for the top states and the top metros driving food processing and manufacturing cluster growth.

Washington (17% growth)

The state best known for its apples also produces and exports milk, potatoes and frozen food products.

Washington’s largest industries in the food processing and manufacturing cluster are frozen fruit, juice and vegetable manufacturing (over 6,000 jobs, down 3% the last five years).

More than a third of the state’s food manufacturing jobs are in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area. Since 2014, food processing and manufacturing cluster jobs shot up 30% in Seattle, the second-fastest growth rate among the 10 largest metros behind Phoenix (33%).

The Kennewick-Richland MSA houses 5,200 jobs in this cluster, but saw just 5% growth since 2014.

While employment growth has been strong, the cluster made up just 1% of the state’s $487 billion gross regional product (GRP) in 2017.

Texas (16% growth)

The third-largest state for food processing and manufacturing with 60,000 jobs, Texas’ cluster is largely fueled by frozen specialty food manufacturing (4,800 jobs).

And, while the Dallas and Houston metros have larger food manufacturing scenes, Austin’s food manufacturing cluster expanded 56% from 2014-2018—the fastest growth rate among the nation’s largest 75 MSAs.

California (11% growth)

California is the unquestioned leader in food processing and manufacturing, with nearly three times as many of these jobs as its nearest competitor—Illinois. Over the last five years, the cluster grew 11% to over 173,000 jobs. That equates to one out of every seven food processing and manufacturing jobs in the country. 

Santa Cruz (35% growth) and San Diego (33%) are the fastest-growing California metros for food manufacturing.

How the food processing and manufacturing cluster ranks

Why should communities care about food manufacturing and processing?

Economic development organizations often focus their attention and investment efforts on traded or basic industries—those that export products or services to other markets and bring in outside income.

Traded industries are the engines of regional economies. And, few of these export-oriented industries have performed as strongly in so many states recently as food processing and manufacturing.

Of the 51 traded industry clusters, food processing and manufacturing tied with video production and distribution for second in percentage job growth the last five years, at 12%.