Idaho, a sparsely populated mountainous state in the north-western part of the US, has gained what little fame it enjoys nationwide for just one agricultural product: the potato. Recent project wins in the agribusiness sector, however, have led to hopes that the state can leverage its green energy credentials and agricultural expertise into a multi-dimensional offering.

For Idaho, clean energy begins with hydroelectric power, which generates 73% of the state’s electricity. Another 15% comes from other renewables such as wind, biomass and geothermal, with less than 1% coming from coal, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

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Idaho’s low electricity costs have been a major driver in wooing food companies Chobani, Clif Bar, Monsanto and Portugal’s Frulact Group to the state in the past few years. According to the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organisation, Idaho’s food industry has drawn $800m of investment in the past year in projects that are expected to create 5000 jobs.

Less regulation

Chobani, which makes 44% of the Greek yogurt consumed in the US, designed, built and opened its food processing plant in Idaho in less than a year – a feat unlikely to be achieved in more heavily regulated states such as California and New York.

Idaho governor CL ‘Butch’ Otter tells fDi that the agricultural industry is close to his heart. “My background growing up was all agriculture-related. [My family owned] a dairy, we had cattle, we had sheep and there were nine of us kids. Being in a large family it was almost necessary to live on a farm where you could grow the most expensive part of the food that you would usually buy,” he says. After college, the governor worked for a large food processing company, eventually becoming president of JR Simplot’s international operations.

“When Chobani, Clif Bar or any other food company wants to come into Idaho, I speak their language. I know their culture,” says Mr Otter.

“We have the industry’s attention with the chance to capitalise on that by improving what got us here in the first place. It’s important that we keep preparing for success by sustaining our advantages and aggressively addressing areas where we need to improve. Our Chobani experience set the standard. State and local governments worked together at the speed of business to help Chobani build the world’s largest Greek yogurt plant, almost 1 million square feet [9.3 hectares] under one roof, in just 326 days.”

While Chobani is now adding a $3.5m packaging facility to its $450m plant, which reached a milestone producing 1 million cases of yogurt a week last December, Frulact will build a 1.9-hectare fruit preparation and processing plant in the town of Rupert. The investment represents Idaho’s first international FDI in manufacturing and Frulact’s first plant in the US.

To Mr Otter, the FDI signifies a commitment to “ensure that Idaho’s public policies remain business friendly”.