EDA investment spurs new development

EDA worked with Willows, California to turn unused land into a modern industrial park, securing a key employer for the central California city.

Helen Hayes once said that age doesn’t matter unless you’re a cheese. For the city of willows, california, this adage also applies to cheese factories. In the mid-2010s, the city’s century-old family cheese producer was about to move its operations to a new facility in a different area, a move necessitated by its increasingly outdated factory. The potential loss of this major employer has created economic uncertainty in the region.

“The old factory was really a Rube Goldberg situation,” recalls Marc Nemanic, associate director at 3CORE, an economic development district that serves Butte, Glenn, and Tehama counties in central California. “It lacked critical efficiencies and economies of scale.”

In 2015, with the support of a $2.5 million public works grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA)—later supplemented by additional federal funding of $1.2 million—Willows began to upgrade roads, sewers, storm drains, electrical, cable and water infrastructure to transform 38 acres of prime, unused, highway-adjacent real estate into a modern industrial park. It was just the incentive needed to exploit the city’s anchor employer.

In 2020, the cheesemaker completed the construction of its new packaging and processing plant, securing both the future of the company and the city for another century. The new plant, which is Food Safety Standards (SQF) Certifiedoperates entirely on renewable solar energy generated on site.

In addition to saving more than 100 jobs, the new industrial park is closing in on the $32 million in private investment that local leaders have estimated it will generate through the project. Additionally, by moving the cheese processing plant inside the city limits—the old factory was located just outside the city limits—Willows was able to increase its tax base.

Legend below

The infrastructure supported by the EDA grant included new roadway, electrical transformers, vaults and bollards.

The success of the Willows project will not only be measured by the jobs saved and the investments generated. The indirect growth resulting from the project has the potential to amplify its impact beyond initial estimates.

“This facility is truly a gem,” says Nemanic. “It’s a beacon that will attract other types of businesses to the new industrial zone. This gives the city financial stability.

The infrastructure updates required by the project provide the opportunity to generate additional development, allowing the growth of new and existing businesses in Willows.

“There’s a lot of developable land in the southern part of town,” says city engineer John Wanger. “The project has extended all utilities to a point where new development is, for the first time, feasible. We anticipate continued growth in this area.

The Public Works Grant Program enables struggling communities to revitalize, expand and upgrade their physical infrastructure to attract new industries, encourage business expansion, diversify local economies and generate or retain jobs and long-term investments in the private sector.

For more information on EDA funding opportunities, please visit eda.gov.

Tags: Infrastructure

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