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UGA Griffin lands innovative, $5.5 million R&D center

Georgia’s food industry will soon benefit from an expanded capacity with the announcement today by the University System of Georgia to build and develop a new $5.5 million facility for the Food Product Innovation and Commercialization (FoodPIC) Center scientists in Griffin, Ga. to work with industry to create and develop new products and processes. The 10,500 square foot research and development facility was funded by a combination of state funds ($3.5 million), UGA ($1 million) and the Griffin-Spalding County Development Authority ($1 million). The FoodPIC Center is part of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, with its long-standing focus on agricultural research and product development. ’We want to engage our University System research expertise and resources in a more focused way to help create jobs and markets,’ said Dr. Tommy Hopkins, a member of the Board of Regents who represents the area. ’With this new facility, the FoodPIC Center will generate new food industry businesses and help companies grow their enterprise here in Georgia,’ said Hopkins. A 2009 study by UGA economist Harvey Witt projected that during first decade, the facility could help generate $92 million in additional revenue for the state’s food industry, create more than 800 jobs and attract new food businesses to Georgia. Today, the Georgia food industry is comprised of approximately 1000 small, medium and large companies employing approximately 60,000 people. The study highlighted that while Georgia’s food industry is growing, it is not cohesive and no central place exists for industry and higher education to come together to create and develop new products and processes, for both small operators and multinationals. The state-of-the-art business incubator R&D facility will allow entrepreneurs and businesses on-site access to equipment and expertise. ’This new facility meets a key state need and will give a critical boost to agriculture and also to Georgia’s economic growth and vitality,’ said State Sen. Ronnie Chance (R-16th district). ‘It will be state-of-the-art and a complement to the many important activities and programs at the Griffin Center.’ The study also found that today there are no similar facilities anywhere in the southeast. ’When people talk about Silicon Valley they usually think of computer and software technology,’ said State Representative David Knight (R), District 130. ’But agriculture remains Georgia’s biggest industry and the FoodPIC Center has the spring board potential to launch a Silicon Valley-like attraction for food businesses and opportunities,’ Knight said. The new facility will employ 20-30 people who at any one time will focus on projects such as food product development, nutrient composition, pilot scale processing, microwave heating, packaging, sensory analyses, and equipment identification and selection. For example, the FoodPIC Center already has provided industry supported research on peanut chips, peanut breakfast tarts, akara-beantots (black-eyed peas), electrolyzed water for food washing and sanitation of food contact surfaces, healthier oils for fried foods and antioxidants from Georgia crops such as muscadines, blueberries and peanuts. The presence on the Griffin campus of the Center for Food Safety offers another opportunity, said Hopkins, as both centers will be able to engage in collaborative research and offer companies a unique level of access to help address a wide range of food-related issues. ’The synergy of these centers of excellence is expected to be the kernel from which next generation food businesses, food products and food industry jobs will emanate,’ said Knight. The University of Georgia is expected to issue an RFP on the selection of a project architect in the coming weeks. A projected completion date for the Center is May 2015.

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