When the Great Recession hit in 2008, the number of manufacturing jobs in Northeast Ohio dropped 15 percent.
Food manufacturing, however, bucked the trend and didn't see jobs disappear. Employment dipped slightly in 2009 but quickly recovered and began growing.
Between 2007 and 2018, the food manufacturing segment added more than 5,000 jobs and grew 29%. The growth rate outpaced the national average of 12%.
More than 23,300 people are working for food manufacturing companies, and the number is expected to grow another 6% over the next five years, according to a report by Team Northeast Ohio.
There are more that 370 food processing and manufacturing businesses in the region, including well known names such as Smucker's based in Orrville and H.J.Heinz, with facilities in Massillon.
"Good times or bad times, we've got to eat," said Ray Hexamer, chief executive officer with the Stark Economic Development Board.
Employment remains steady in the food and beverage industry because the segment generally transcends economic trends and bucks the cycles that hamper other industries, said Jacob Duritsky, vice president for strategy and research for Team NEO.
Joe Needham, director of food and agribusiness for JobsOhio, said food manufacturing accounts for 75,000 jobs around Ohio, with roughly one-third of those jobs in Northeast Ohio.
Ohio has a robust food industry chain, Needham explained. Farms around the state supply more than 1,300 food manufacturing facilities. Food is packaged here and sold here or shipped around the country to retailers.
Companies have worked with JobsOhio to expand and add jobs. Since 2014, when the agency was restructured under former Gov. John Kasich, JobsOhio has assisted more than 30 Northeast Ohio companies on projects.
Stark and Wayne counties are two of the largest food manufacturing counties in the state and should see continued growth, Needham said. He cited the need for more cold storage facilities in Ohio and a trend toward developing facilities where food is grown indoors.
Development of wineries, craft breweries and distilleries also has factored into the food production growth, Duritsky said. Needham noted that Ohio has nearly 300 craft breweries, in addition to established facilities for major brewers Budweiser, Miller-Coors and Sam Adams.
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