As a Newberg fruit processing plant is folded into a larger Japanese company, the state of Oregon has announced plans to chip in about $100,000 toward expanding the former Berry Noir factory.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, speaking at a grand opening ceremony for St. Cousair Oregon Orchards' facility on Highway 219 south of Newberg last week, said the grant will help keep the state's fruit industry thriving while ensuring rural areas get their share of jobs and economic growth.
"This investment affirms St. Cousair's promise to create and maintain jobs right here in Newberg, and I'm certainly hopeful that this is just the beginning of a lasting and mutually beneficial partnership between St. Cousair and the people of Oregon." Brown told a crowd picnicking in a field near the factory Aug. 9.
The grant is one of 13 projects throughout the state getting a total of $4.81 million from Business Oregon's Strategic Reserve Fund – although contracts are still pending – and expected to create or maintain nearly 1,800 jobs overall, according to press releases from the governor's office.
St. Cousair will reportedly receive an investment of nearly $103,000 that is expected to help retain the current staff at the plant and add 18 additional jobs there. The program requires those jobs be created within four years or the money be returned.
Ceremony attendees dined on a catered picnic under shaded tables in a field on a hot summer afternoon. Those in attendance included Newberg Mayor Bob Andrews, Newberg Community Development Director Doug Rux and all three Yamhill County commissioners.
In her remarks, Brown highlighted the historical and cultural importance of fruit in Oregon and said the grant demonstrated the state government's commitment to that industry and tradition. At the same time, she noted how the jobs created helps spread the economic growth Oregon has seen to rural areas.
"We know, certainly, the economic growth we've seen (after the) recession has really been in our metropolitan areas, and I'm just very committed to making sure that the economy thrives in urban and in rural Oregon," she said.
St. Cousair is based in the town of Iizuna – located in the Nagano Prefecture northwest of Tokyo – where it also operates a vineyard and winery under the same name. In addition to producing fruit and vegetable-based products, the company operates more than 100 specialty stores under the brands "St. Cousair" and "Kuze Fuku & Co."
The Berry Noir facility has continued production of private label brands for the likes of Costco, Trader Joe's and other grocery store companies, while also giving St. Cousair a foothold for its own products in the United States and global markets.
After taking Brown on a tour of the facility, Naoki Kuze, president of St. Cousair Oregon Orchards, explained that the company has been exporting products from the United States to Japan for years, and the Newberg facility accomplishes the Kuze family's "dream" of positioning the company to take better advantage of these products.
"Using those materials we could make really good products and then send back to Japan or even distribute through the United States or Asia or in the future to the world – and this property has that potential. So, this was our dream (and) at the same time this really makes our customers happy," Kuze said.
Chuck Cox – owner of Berry Noir and now vice president of St. Cousair Oregon Orchards as well as former mayor of Newberg – said the state grant will pay for new equipment to shift production to Newberg from Japan, particularly to meet the higher product presentation standards in Japan.
"You can't have a mistake. Everything has to be perfect," Cox said, giving examples of how Japan-bound products must have impeccable, unblemished labels and packaging. "We need some better testing equipment, some newer kettles, those kinds of things, and that state grant is what's allowing us to do that, allowing us to immediately hire people and get going."
Staff with the governor's office noted that the contract is still pending while negotiations are completed.