About The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative

What is the Initiative?

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative was a coordinated, cluster-based effort established in 2011 to help the region prosper by providing innovative assistance programs, training, and collaborative partnerships to the food processing cluster. The goal of the Initiative was economic development and job creation. While the initiative programs, with the exception of training, are now substantially concluded, Rochester Institute of Technology's Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) continues to provide support and technical assistance to the food processing cluster. For more information, contact Andy Harlan.

The Initiative was developed by Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies, a Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (DOC EDA), the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (DOL ETA), and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), to develop and support the Initiative. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also provided funding support through the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I). Combined Initiative funding totaled over $1.9M.


Three programs were developed for the Initiative to align with the sponsoring agency objectives. The Advancement Program (closed), supported by the DOC EDA and NYSP2I was developed to help businesses become more competitive and support regional economic growth, in part through sustainable business practices. The Training Program (open), sponsored by DOL ETA, was designed to build the cluster’s workforce to meet the demands of the businesses in the growing cluster. The Small Business Assistance Program (closed), sponsored by SBA, promoted inclusion of small businesses in high unemployment or low-income areas of the region and provided additional assistance to these companies.

The Programs

The Initiative consisted of three programs:

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Advancement Program provided assistance to area food processing and agricultural businesses, which includes identifying and implementing technical improvements and sustainable manufacturing process technologies to reduce operating costs, minimize environmental impacts, open market opportunities, start new businesses, and retain and grow jobs. Through this program, a Cluster Leadership Council was formed to help guide this effort and sustain the Initiative beyond the grant period. The program also provided networking and match-making opportunities to help unify the cluster and hosted workshops to transfer knowledge to regional businesses, such as export opportunities and money-saving sustainability practices. The Cluster Leadership Council convenes on an as-needed basis.

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Training Program was established to identify and ultimately bridge the gap between the existing workforce skillset and the qualifications required by food and agriculture businesses in the region. The program provides two areas of training: targeted food industry training to displaced professionals from declining industries that have significantly reduced their employment in the region; and, higher-level skills training to incumbent and prospective employees upgrading skills to meet the 21st century demands of the cluster’s businesses.

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Small Business Assistance Program provided assistance to 7(j) eligible existing small businesses within the cluster. This program proactively sought eligible businesses to participate in the Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Training Program and the Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Advancement Program. The Program also provided assistance with navigation of relevant federal and state funding opportunities, technology transfer and business opportunity informational events.

The Cluster

What is a Cluster?

Why Use a Cluster Approach?

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster is comprised of all enterprises in the regional food production value chain, from farm-to-fork, including: farms, transportation, food processors, packaging and equipment manufacturers, waste-to-energy providers, distributors, and retail outlets. Geographical factors of the Finger Lakes area such as access to the lakes, fertile soil, and the climate and proximity to population centers provide the foundation for the cluster. The region's long history of agribusiness has generated a large concentration of food processors and related suppliers and specialized labor in the area.

The food processing cluster of the Finger Lakes boasts the following statistics:

  • Employment – 13,977 (largest employment of all regions in NYS in this cluster)
  • Average annual wage – $39,785
  • Location quotient – 1.46
  • Number of establishments – 730
  • Contribution to the region in total wages – $556,092,350

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster has several assets that provide a competitive advantage. Highlights include:

Close proximity to a reliable and abundant supply of fresh water, with approximately 7% of the world's fresh water. The Finger Lakes Region has millions of gallons per day in excess water capacity. Companies here do not face water rationing or water rights fees.

Competitive labor, land and real estate costs, and some of the most affordable housing in the U.S.

Close proximity to major East Coast markets without the high cost associated with a major metropolitan area. The region is within 500 miles of 1/3 of the U.S. and Canadian population.

An emphasis on education, plus an unusually large higher education sector, ensures a technically-sophisticated and reliable labor force.

The Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park, a 202-acre industrial park in Batavia, NY, offering major infrastructure for food and beverage companies.

The Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva, NY, a campus for research and development in the areas of food and agriculture, providing labs, office space and 4 production facilities for emerging businesses.

Genesee County is home to 3 of the top 10 largest vegetable farms in the United States along with numerous food processors including Allen's Inc., O-AT-KA Milk Products, and Yancey's Fancy Cheese.

Rochester, the largest city in the region, has the highest number of patents per worker in the United States, including the camera, the copy machine, the lenses used in NASA's Mars Rover, and even apple juice. This region produces more patents per worker (2.77) than regions such as San Jose, CA, and Austin, TX.

Large, recognized, food processors and distributors in the Finger Lakes Region, including:

  • Baldwin Richardson Foods
  • Barilla America
  • Constellation Brands
  • Frito-Lay
  • Kraft Foods
  • LiDestri Foods
  • Mott's
  • Muller Quaker Dairy
  • Seneca Foods
  • Wegmans Food Market

In August 2010, Business Facilities magazine named Rochester's Genesee/Livingston County Region second on its list of the top 5 food processing industry growth areas in the nation.

The Rochester/Finger Lakes Region is the largest milk producing region in New York State[2] and it is the nation's second largest wine producer and third biggest grape grower[3]. With more than 100 vineyards throughout the region producing world-class wines, the Rochester/Finger Lakes Region ranks first in New York State for wine production[4].

[1] Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, Clusters and Cluster Development, Harvard Business School.
[2] NYS Department of Agriculture, quoted in Food and Beverage Manufacturing in Rochester, NY, Greater Rochester Enterprises
[3] MKF Research, LLC, (2005) The Economic Impact of Wine, Grapes and Grape Juice Products in New York State, The Wine Business Center.
[4] MKF Research, LLC, (2005) The Economic Impact of Wine, Grapes and Grape Juice Products in New York State, The Wine Business Center.

The Finger Lakes Region

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative focused on the Finger Lakes Region, located in west-central New York State.  The Region is composed of nine counties (Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates) with 192 cities, towns, and villages.  The Region encompasses 4,680 square miles and has a population of nearly 1.2 million people.  As typical of a Food Processing Cluster, both rural and urban settings are found in the region.  For additional information, please visit: http://esd.ny.gov/FingerLakes.html.

Initiative Partners

CIMS is working with several partners to deliver the Initiative programs, including:

50 Years - Fulfilling our community's promise


New York State Small Business Development Center

Finger Lakes Works

Finger Lakes Works

The Technology Farm



In September of 2009, CIMS was awarded the Excellence in Economic Development Award in the University-Led Economic Development Strategies category by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. This recognized the outstanding impact that the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies has had in support of regional strategies advancing productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies (RIT-CIMS) provides a practical, strategic, and successful track record of sustainable return on investment and economic growth to the region. For more than 20 years, RIT-CIMS has provided tangible hands-on applied research to state, federal, and commercial/industrial clients in the areas of systems modernization, remanufacturing, industrial and manufacturing revitalization and competitiveness, and sustainable production. RIT-CIMS remains an anchor in Upstate NY, helping manufacturers enhance their competitiveness through sustainable technologies, and has been recognized for accomplishments in economic development, job creation, cluster engagement, and the ability to leverage resources for common goals. In 2009, RIT-CIMS received the DOC EDA Excellence in Economic Development Award.

RIT-CIMS is a research center within the Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) at RIT, a leading academic and applied research and development unit of the Rochester Institute of Technology dedicated to helping businesses enhance productivity and become more sustainable through innovation and technology.

To learn more about RIT-CIMS visit: http://www.rit.edu/gis/research-centers/cims/


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