RIT Awarded $1.5M From U.S. Department of Labor Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge

Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative aims at kick-starting regional economy

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The Obama administration is announcing that more than $1.5 million is headed to Rochester Institute of Technology as a result of the U.S. Department of Labor Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge.

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative, which will be led by the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Center—a unit of RIT’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability—takes aim at advancing the regional competitiveness of the nine-county Finger Lakes region.

“From Kraft Foods and Barilla Pasta in Livingston County to LiDestri in Monroe County, and wine companies like Constellation throughout the Finger Lakes, food production and processing has tremendous growth potential in the Rochester and Finger Lakes region,” says Sen. Charles Schumer. “This Food Processing Center Cluster is exactly the thing needed to maximize the sector’s growth over the coming years, wring out every possible job, expand all possible revenues and spur new companies. This is an innovate federal investment to give industry players the tools and resources they need to grow in Rochester and the Finger Lakes for decades to come.”

The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative is a three-pronged cluster based effort providing practical, hands-on assistance programs, training and collaborative partnerships. This initiative will assist area food processing and agricultural businesses to identify and implement 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.

“This is an important investment for RIT and the Finger Lakes economy,” says Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the first U.S. senator from New York to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in 40 years. “The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative, led by RIT, will provide the support, tools and resources to jumpstart the local economy, linking our farms to food processers across the region, creating a sustainable workforce for our small businesses and helping bring our locally grown food to market. This federal investment will help give food producers and processors across the region the competitive edge to grow over the long term.”

The program will also identify and ultimately bridge the gap between the existing skills of the workforce and the qualifications required by food and agriculture businesses in the region—providing targeted food industry training to displaced professionals from declining industries that have significantly reduced their employment in the region. Training will also focus on higher-level skills training to incumbent and prospective employees upgrading skills to meet the 21st century demands of the cluster’s businesses. Furthermore, the program strives to provide assistance to eligible existing small businesses within the cluster’s region.

“I congratulate RIT and the companies involved on successfully competing for this grant,” adds Rep. Tom Reed. “The Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative will ultimately create private sector jobs and long-term career opportunities for residents of the Finger Lakes region. This is but another example of how our area of western New York has excellent educational institutions, a superior workforce and far-sighted business leaders working together to strengthen our economy.”

“This program is a great example of how regional organization can partner by leveraging their knowledge and expertise to help industry in our community,” says Nabil Nasr, director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at RIT. “We are excited to be partnering with Monroe Community College, Genesee County Career Center, Finger Lakes Works and Rochester Works in the Jobs Training portion of the effort. This program will bring significant leverage and present good opportunities for our region to expand this kind of activity with excellent potential of contributing to our regional economic development goals.”

Funding for the Finger Lakes Food Processing Cluster Initiative is expected to create approximately 40 new jobs and lead to dozens of additional service sector positions. Over four years, the initiative seeks to provide a career pathway for an estimated 190 workers.

RIT, along with its partnering agencies, will work with local businesses such as Kraft Foods to provide hands-on assistance programs, training and collaborative partnerships.

The award was a result of a competitive application process through the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and the Small Business Administration.

RIT will receive $997,470 from Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration for a four-year program. The Small Business Administration will award RIT with $150,000 over two years. The Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration will award RIT with $400,000, which will be matched by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation through the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute at RIT. New York was the only state to have two award recipients out of 125 national applicants. The two award recipients matched more than $1.2 million to the award funds. There were only 20 award recipients overall.

These 20 public-private partnerships are expected to create more than 4,800 jobs and 300 new businesses, as well as retain another 2,400 jobs and train approximately 4,000 workers for careers in high-growth industries nationwide, according to grantee estimates. The winning clusters nationally will contribute another $13 million in total matching funds.