In three years, Yogurt-maker Hamdi Ulukaya has turned a shuttered plant into a thriving company with 80 employees, $30 million in sales and more orders than they can fill with their current capacity.
“You can always turn things around if you have the motive, if you have the idea,” said Ulukaya.
What brought the Turkish-born business man to Chenango County? He was following his dream of introducing a high quality Greek-style yogurt to the U.S. market.
The dairy business was nothing new to Ulukaya; his family has been in the industry in Europe for generations. He himself already owned a company called Euphrates, Inc., for which he built a state-of-the-art facility in 2002. The company, located in Johnstown, makes feta cheese.
Ulukaya first visited Chenango County in 2005 to see the Kraft plant outside of New Berlin. The building, built in the 1920s, was in the process of closing. During that visit, he said, he was struck by how people in the community, particularly the plant’s 55 employees who would be affected.
“They cared about their jobs,” he explained.
While the building didn’t look like much from the outside, Ulukaya said, there was a valuable investment in equipment inside. He was able to see not only the potential for the facility, but also its surroundings.
“The raw material here is the best in the world,” he explained, speaking of the quality of the milk produced by area farms.
Beyond that, it was instance that helped Ulukaya make his decision.
“You have to follow your gut feeling,” he said.
With the purchase of the facility, Agro Farma was born.
“I think this is a great example of local and state government coming together and making a project work,” said Ulukaya.
Ulukaya received support and financing after his purchase of the facility by working closely with both Chenango County and Commerce Chenango.
According to Maureen Carpenter, President of Commerce Chenango, her organization applied for a grant on Agro Farma’s behalf with the New York State Office of Small Cities, now known as the Office of Community Renewal. That money was divided into a $250,000 low-interest loan and a $340,000 forgivable loan for equipment, working capital and employee training. As the money is paid back, it goes into the Chenango County Area Corporation’s revolving loan fund where it can benefit other local businesses.