TWIN FALLS • Inside Glanbia’s new downtown center, food scientists soon will look to explore new cheese frontiers, revitalize the company’s passion and expand its footprint in the global cheese industry.

Those in the local business community have equally lofty expectations of how the center’s arrival could help revitalize the downtown, local and regional economy.

“It’s a really big deal, and I’m just blown away,” said Jan Rogers, executive director of the Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization.

Glanbia’s 14,000-square-foot Cheese Innovation Center and three-story, 35,000-square-foot corporate headquarters will house about 100 employees. The company will hold a grand opening celebration Wednesday, Aug. 7.

“The idea is to create a little more passion for cheese for all of our employees,” Glanbia President and CEO Jeff Williams said. “Having a physical asset that does that is a daily reminder that’s what we’re all about — creating passion around cheese, being more excited about it and getting involved with our customers.”

Those close to the situation expect the center to generate a four-fold growth — cheese production within the company, Glanbia employees generating more downtown business, leading growth in downtown vitality and strengthening the national business magnet that Twin Falls has become.

“I think it just takes a little bit of momentum, and I think we’ve provided a pretty good boost down there,” Williams said. “We’re really excited about being downtown, and there’s a buzz around the place and getting everybody moved under one roof.”

Growing from Within

Wednesday’s grand opening will feature speakers starting at 10 a.m. and guided tours of the recently completed center at 161 Fourth Ave. S.

The event is open to the business community, and tours can be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, marketing manager Whitney Beem said. The event also will feature cheese tastings in an “around-the-world format,” she said.

The innovation center will allow Glanbia to experiment with cheese by making small, 100-pound batches instead of the 1,000-pound lots the company makes now at its local commercial plants, Williams said.

Food scientists will work “shoulder to shoulder” with customers to make new cheeses. Williams said he’s coining the phrase “innovation around the edges” to illustrate that the company won’t stray far from what has made it successful — high-volume, low-cost, top-quality commodity cheese.

“Our goal is to be more and more relevant to our customers,” he said. When someone “has an idea, we’ll be on their speed dial.”

Glanbia expects about 60 percent of the innovation center’s work to come from customers’ ideas. About 30 percent will be ideas generated from marketplace trends, and 10 percent will be “blue sky or serendipitous” activity, he said. The latter is where Glanbia will let its scientists “play around.“

Cheese innovation is a broad subject, but “accelerated aging” is an example of what the company hopes to accomplish, Williams said. Scientists can use certain enzymes to mature cheese more quickly than the natural aging process.

A culinary center will let employees use the cheese the same way customers do.

“We can bake it, stretch it, cook it — do things that our customers would do with it, like put it on a pizza,” he said. “Then we’ll be able to shred it, slice it, dice it, chunk it and those sorts of things.“

In March, Glanbia bought a Blackfoot cheese plant one-third the size of its Twin Falls factory specifically to be an “incubator plant,“ Williams said.

“So the plan is to take the things we make in the cheese innovation center, and then we’ll go to commercialize those. Once a customer gives us a big order, we’ll want to make the cheese on a commercial basis, and we’ll take it to our Blackfoot plant.“

The idea for the innovation center came from a “very successful” similar model Glanbia uses in its whey protein division.

“I can’t think of any of our competitors that have a cheese innovation center like we’ll have,” Williams said.

Planting a Seed

Glanbia employees moved into their new offices about two weeks ago, and Williams said he’s seen what their presence can do for downtown businesses. He went to a small area restaurant the other day and saw nine Glanbia employees already there.

“I think it’ll be huge for downtown Twin Falls,” he said. “People are just going to go out the door, hit Main Avenue and hit some of the sandwich places. I’m hoping that someone opens up a few more restaurants down there.“

A few blocks down from the new Glanbia center, Adair Johnson was busy Monday, July 29, hanging a chandelier from Stonehouse and Co.’s ceiling. Johnson and his wife hope to open the building in mid-August for catering events.

Glanbia will be a magnet that draws people to the area and allows other businesses to thrive, Johnson predicted.

“We’re glad to have them in the area, and it’s going to ... benefit everybody,” he said.

Johnson said he’s also reassured by Glanbia’s presence. Although much of Stonehouse’s business will come from elsewhere, he said he hopes the cheese company will notice his space.

“In the business that we’re in, we hope to host some of Glanbia’s meetings and parties and stuff like that,” he said. “It’ll be very beneficial. But a lot of our (business) is going to be weddings and several business meetings, as well.“

Ryan Horsley, general manager of Red’s Trading Post in the warehouse district near Stonehouse, said he is pleased to see Glanbia moving into the neighborhood. Although Glanbia employees might not be his direct customers, he said, it’s exciting to be part of business growth.

“You bring these people down, and they want a place to shop, they want a place to go eat,” he said. “It drives more people down here.“

Glanbia and St. Luke’s Magic Valley Patient Financial Services building, remodeled in 2010 from the old Crumb Building, showcase the area’s potential, he said.

Several other new restaurants and businesses have decided to build or move into downtown in recent years, said Horsley, a former member of the Twin Falls Planning and Zoning Commission.

Lots are cheap and plentiful, and empty warehouses can be renovated or torn down to accommodate growth constrained by Twin Falls’ natural barriers — the Snake River Canyon to the north and Rock Creek to the west, he said.

“A lot of people don’t see it right away, but if you take a look at the growing trend, the momentum that’s building, there’s a lot of exciting things that are happening (downtown),” Horsley said.

Gaining Momentum

The warehouse district just off Main Avenue looks “significantly different” than it did five years ago, said city spokesman Joshua Palmer. The city’s Urban Renewal Agency (URA) has helped clean and develop the area, he said.

“If you would have looked at those streets five years ago, the curb was at best gravel and the road was not very good,” Palmer said. “There was no parking, dirt fields and a closed-down nightclub” where Glanbia now sits.

URA spent $1.25 million preparing the Glanbia site, said Melinda Anderson, director of URA and the city’s economic department. That money went to the purchase price, demolition, new water and sewer, wastewater treatment, landscaping, streets and sidewalk improvements, parking, power, gas and telecommunications, she said.

Extra property taxes collected from the land’s higher value will go back to URA to pay off those costs, Anderson said. Some of the upgrades — such as water and sewer lines — also will benefit other projects, she said.

“The more developments like Glanbia, like St. Luke’s, helps other developers realize, ’Oh, that is worth developing. Let’s go down and see what we can do.’”

A strong downtown is important to any city, said Mark Lopshire, board chairman for the Twin Falls Chamber of Commerce. If a city’s focus shifts away from downtown, the tax base can be lost and the area becomes dilapidated. A vibrant, healthy downtown gives a town flavor, history and a sense of belonging, he said.

“If you go out to Blue Lakes or Pole Line, what’s the personality there? Great businesses, but you don’t have that historical personality that a downtown has and a city needs,” Lopshire said.

A nice downtown is also a corporate recruiting tool, Anderson said. Companies hiring from out of the area want to make sure their employees enjoy a good quality of life.

Lopshire said Glanbia’s new facility and business leaders’ focus on downtown are the next steps in future, sustainable regional business.

“You look at Glanbia, and they are a national and a global company, and they have people coming in from all over the U.S., all over the world. And they take a look at that building and that downtown, and they say, ’This is a great place,’” he said.

Rogers agreed. Glanbia will brighten the spotlight shining on Twin Falls as a premier food research and production destination. The area has added cheese and whey innovation to its already strong base of sugar, aquaculture, bean and seed research.

The cluster of expert food scientists working across all those fields can be used as a recruiting tool as well, further cementing the excitement building in the area, Rogers said.

“We are the food kings of Idaho,” she said.

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