Bottled water from Fulton County is reaching consumers throughout the Northeast, creating a dozen new jobs and adding to the growing food-processing industry in Fulton and Montgomery counties.
California-based CG Roxane is employing 12 people at its new water-bottling plant in the town of Johnstown.
It’s a successful economic development effort that was sparked by change: the relocation of the Beech-Nut baby food factory in Montgomery County.
The village of Canajoharie sells water to the new bottling plant, bringing in some revenue for the village, which owns the land from which it’s drawn.
Economic development officials say the new Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water production facility highlights a powerful tool that both counties have in their job-creating arsenals: plenty of fresh, clean water.
“Water availability is very critical to manufacturing and certainly to the food-processing industry,” said Dustin Swanger, chairman at the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth.
Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, said taking advantage of the water supply for industry doesn’t supplant the recent focus towards high-tech industries — it’s part of it.
Facilities like the Fage yogurt plant in Johnstown and Beech-Nut in the Montgomery County town of Florida both employ modern, computerized gear for production, he said.
“That’s very high-tech industry, technology-based. It’s not a bunch of people in a kitchen cooking tomatoes. It’s a different industry than it used to be,” Swanger said.
Room for growth
The new 176,757-square-foot bottling plant marks the sixth for the French family that owns CG Roxane.
The California-based company also bottles water “at the source” from plants in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and in Mt. Shasta and Olancha, Calif.
Its development began when Beech-Nut, a baby-food plant situated for decades in Canajoharie, built a new plant three towns to the east in Montgomery County’s Florida Business Park, where about 340 people work.
The village continues to feed water to candy maker Richardson Brands, which employs about 160 — but candy production doesn’t require as much water as baby food. That left Canajoharie with a surplus of available water.
There were hopes of major water purchases, Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery said, but this summer’s initial startup is yielding about $2,000 per month for the village for about 2 million gallons monthly.
Before Beech-Nut left, it was buying 1 million gallons every day, so the new sales are far from a replacement.
Although there’s a continued push to market its water, Avery said he believes that the state of manufacturing is behind the slow response to Beech-Nut’s old buildings, which continue to languish in the heart of the village.
“We’re advertising the water and the sewer plant and it just doesn’t seem to be that much of an attraction when put alongside all the mandates and the high taxes that are associated with New York,” Avery said.
Water to fuel jobs in the two counties doesn’t come just from the Adirondacks, which feed supplies for Johnstown, Gloversville and Amsterdam. It’s also sitting beneath the ground in good supplies on hills overlooking the Mohawk River, said Ken Rose, Montgomery County economic development director.
Last year, engineers found a plentiful supply of groundwater beneath the county’s Glen Business Park — an important need for the $160 million aquaculture facility the county is hoping to attract.
It adds to existing wastewater facilities such as the one in Canajoharie, also too big now following Beech-Nut’s departure.
“Very important, in food processing, is having that type of infrastructure in place. The city of Amsterdam has excess capacity for both water and wastewater, those are extremely vital when it comes to the food processing industry,” Rose said.
“Looking around the two-county region, you can definitely see a clustering effect that seems to be taking place, especially with food processing,” Rose said.
Fulton County Center for Economic Growth CEO Michael Reese said he sees the region taking good advantage of its available water which ties in, importantly, with nearby transportation corridors.
The state Thruway, highways that parallel it and the Adirondack Northway are all readily accessible from the plant, off state Route 29.
Bottled water from the CG Roxane plant, he said, is being delivered to major population areas including Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Montreal.
“They can reach the greater part of the Northeast market in a day’s travel,” Reese said.
The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Reese said the current plant could one day employ more people — its 40-acre site on Water Shed Road is big enough for expansion already.
“They could add another 65,000 square feet onto that — if the market takes off, if sales take off,” Reese said.