Chobani Groundbreaking Ceremony

Founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya addresses the crowd during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Research and Development building Thursday at Chobani in Twin Falls.

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS

Just six years after building the world’s largest yogurt factory from scratch in the desert in south Twin Falls, Chobani is plotting its next miracle: an additional $100 million in expansion projects.

The goal, says founder Hamdi Ulukaya, is to transform southern Idaho into the Silicon Valley of food innovation.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter calls the plan epic.

Some folks may underestimate southern Idaho. Ulukaya isn’t one of them. In fact, he sees potential here that seems almost limitless.

This isn’t just about making yogurt anymore. It’s about building a culture of innovation. It’s about putting Twin Falls on the map, a place where top innovators want to live, work and play. And if the plan works, it’ll mean untold changes for the Magic Valley.

And it’s not just talk. Chobani has already laid the groundwork. Its Flip line, developed inside a double-wide trailer outside Chobani’s factory, is already a $400 million product, and the company thinks it has the potential to hit a billion dollars.

Chobani, which also has a factory in New York, is betting its future on Twin Falls. Its global research and development team will be tasked with innovating the company’s next products not from its lowly trailer but from a state-of-the-art lab and kitchen inside a massive new $14 million glass building whose construction is now underway.

The new building will feature community meeting spaces. It’ll also be the headquarters for a new program for mentoring Idaho food entrepreneurs, who’ll work alongside Chobani’s industry leaders to develop new food innovations.

Idaho’s government and business leaders are all on board. At a groundbreaking for the new building Thursday, the governor spoke of the values shared between Chobani and Idahoans.

“You showed us you care,” Otter said. “You care about the community. From the bottom of Idaho’s heart, thank you.”

Mayor Shawn Barigar said the company is redefining what it means to be rural — retaining the values and pioneering spirit of agrarian southern Idaho while stoking entrepreneurism and agricultural and food science innovation.

Anyone who heard Ulukaya speak at Thursday’s groundbreaking probably couldn’t help but draw parallels between the founder’s vision and ultra-hip companies like Apple and Google. Instead of a suit, this CEO wears jeans and baseball caps. Instead of the typical stifling corporate culture, Chobani promotes risk-taking and puts a lot of trust in its top managers. (Ulukaya says the decision to move its R and D to Twin Falls was not his idea; the team wanted to be in Twin, so he gave the OK.) Instead of building a dreary factory, Chobani is keenly aware of how building design – wide hallways, open workspaces, worker perks like fitness centers — fosters happy workers.

“I found a goldmine in this community,” Ulukaya said. But he wasn’t talking about the yogurt or the millions its made him. He was talking about the people.

“The goldmine,” he said, “is the human spirit. Invest in that.”

That’s an investment we can believe in.

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