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'Taste of Pennsylvania' Provides Showcase Opportunities

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- New business deals for Pennsylvania companies were on the menu this week as Pa. Gov. Ed Rendell welcomed more than 300 guests to his residence here for the "Taste of Pennsylvania" reception.

PA Preferred vendors had the opportunity to meet with representatives of restaurants, country clubs, retail associations and hotels from across the state to create new distribution outlets for their products. Participants had the opportunity to showcase their line to restaurant owners looking to expand their menu offerings.

"We are aggressive in our efforts to support and promote Pennsylvania products," said Rendell, noting that Pennsylvania is home to many top-notch restaurants, while the PA Preferred brand is associated with high quality goods produced in the Keystone state. Bringing these two groups together benefits restaurants by delivering delicious, new items to their menus and it improves sales for the member companies. Supporting local companies by creating new business opportunities is a practical approach to growing the commonwealth's economy."

More than 90 restaurant owners and chefs from across the commonwealth surveyed and sampled the wares of some 40 PA Preferred vendors. Products included meats, cheeses, baked goods, fresh produce, ice cream, pasta, beer, and wine.

Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff was also on hand to provide information about the program. "Gov. Rendell directed us to launch the PA Preferred branding effort to help customers easily identify products grown, produced or packaged here in the state," said Wolff, adding that any product falling under the classification of food or fiber can qualify, so long as they meet the production and packaging requirements. Consumers can feel confident that they have purchased a quality product and supported a state business when they see the PA Preferred blue and gold checkmark."

Since the program was launched in January 2004, more than 1,000 member locations have enrolled. To carry the PA Preferred brand, at least 60 percent of the raw product must be grown and harvested in the commonwealth. For items like chocolate, where some inputs are not available in state, 100 percent of the final manufacturing process and packaging must be done in Pennsylvania.

"Pennsylvania shoppers are eager to buy local products because they realize the importance of supporting their neighborhood companies and the state's economy," said Rendell, adding that supporting local economies is, "a multiplier effect that is good for the entire state's economy."

In related news Gov. Rendell announced a $100 million private-public sector investment that will support Pennsylvania's agriculture industry with a new food distribution center in Philadelphia that will maintain the commonwealth's leadership in providing fresh produce and seafood for the entire East Coast and support the retention and creation of nearly 2,000 jobs.

"Pennsylvania is making an investment that will support our number one industry -- agriculture -- and provide a modern, secure and updated facility that will allow the fresh produce business to continue its double-digit growth in the commonwealth," Rendell said. "Replacing the aging food distribution terminal on Packer Ave. with a new nearly one-million-square-foot operation at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, will help Pennsylvania maintain its leadership in the industry and allow us to continue serving restaurants and grocery stores along the East Coast."

"These food merchants and some 1,500 jobs could have gone to New Jersey or New York, but we have worked diligently to make sure Pennsylvania remains a competitive player in a dynamic market," Rendell said. "This operation has annual sales of $1.5 billion and a new facility will help it to grow."

The new food distribution center is being built through a private-public partnership. The commonwealth will split the $100 million cost of the new facility with $50 million matched by the merchants. The current food distribution terminal on Packer Ave. was built in 1959 and produce merchants have outgrown the 30-acre facility. Currently, 1,500 workers are employed at the terminal, and merchants expect to create 375 new jobs in the next three years at the modernized operation.

The new Food Distribution Center will include two buildings: approximately 800,000 square feet for fresh produce and approximately 160,000 square feet for seafood. The governor added that the state-of-the-art facility also will help safeguard the food distribution chain by providing a more modern and secure operation.

"Not only do we need to be concerned about maintaining the highest health standards for our food, we also need to make sure it is protected from attack by thieves, vandals and terrorists who might attempt to harm or damage our food supply," said Rendell. Once complete, the new facility, for example, will be able to nearly quadruple its refrigeration and storage capacity from 660,000 packages to 2.3 million packages.
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