While the U.S. unemployment rate shot up as high as 14.4% due to the pandemic, one tortilla manufacturer in Florida managed to grow its staff. But how?
Duke Energy’s economic development team has helped bring more than 100,000 jobs to its communities. Read more.
Before moving to Kissimmee from Doral, Fla., Easy Foods had 150 employees pressing out 36 million pounds of tortillas per year. Now, they’re making 60 million annually. “This Kissimmee building has capacity for 120 million,” said William Isaias, Easy Foods president. “We still have space to grow.”
He couldn’t say that a few years ago. Easy Foods was focused on manufacturing a food-service-focused product in a 40,000-square-foot space for private labels to sell in retail.
“The layout wasn’t ideal for production,” Isaias said. “As we grew and expanded, we had to change our flow completely.”
They also had an issue with coastal storms knocking out power and disrupting the production line or damaging electrical components.
“We can’t run without power,” he said. “It’s not just power, it’s having it there consistently without any interruptions.”
Easy Foods’ search for a new home extended across Florida until Osceola County, known for its burgeoning Hispanic population, popped up as an option. In late 2015, the company contacted Osceola County’s director of economic development, who then reached out to Duke Energy’s economic development team in Florida. The Duke Energy team offers complimentary assistance to power-intensive users while exploring sites with low-cost, reliable and sustainable electricity. There are teams like this in the six states Duke Energy serves.
“Osceola County gave us high-level details and said they could use our support,” said Marc Hoenstine, director of economic development in Florida. His team ensures sites meet clients’ needs, including available power capacity, the reliability of the system and the timing for serving the project. “We provided a rate estimate to the company through our county partner, knowing they were trying to find a better location and lower costs.”
In a nutshell, the team helps companies see the value of locating to an area.
“This site that Easy Foods chose in the Poinciana Industrial Park is an attractive location for food and beverage companies,” said Hoenstine. “We have to have sites that are ready for our clients, that have the infrastructure in place, so they don’t experience a long lead time in getting up and running.”
Poinciana Industrial Park already had two distribution feeders and a substation to serve the growth in this area.
Easy Foods’ plant now has 105,000 square feet of space with about 245 employees, from their food safety and quality team to their production team to their mechanical team.
As for this kind of partnership, Hoenstine said, “It makes a lot of sense for the well-being of both entities, for both Duke Energy and the customer. When Duke Energy helps a community become more competitive and develop sites that help attract new companies, the community gains a new corporate citizen, employing people in the county and benefiting the tax base. It’s what we do to support our communities and their growth.”
Since their 2018 move, Easy Foods has seen growth beyond their employee and tortilla numbers. Last year, they launched the Tacomex brand into retail, becoming more than a manufacturer for private-label brands. The brand encompasses flour tortillas, corn tortillas, wraps and corn chips. Easy Foods also launched the flavored Vedgee wraps brand.
Like a lot of companies, Easy Foods struggled with a slowdown in March and April, since 60 percent of its business is generated by food service. The retail side picked up, however, with people stocking up on groceries. The new space and power allowed them to keep cranking out product.
“It obviously hasn’t been easy, but we’ve been lucky that we were diversified in food service and retail,” Isaias said. “We had one terrible month and we were able to continue through it. And here we stand now.”