LORAIN — Ron Pickworth called it one of the area’s best-kept secrets.
The longtime Lorain County Fair board member and county fair director was among those who turned out for Tuesday’s presentation of a state agriculture award to Great Lakes Smoked Meats.
“So many people don’t even know this is here, but it’s great to recognize small businesses like this that make up so much of our food processing and agricultural business,” Pickworth said.
Opened in 2009 by Fligner’s Market, which is adjacent to the business on Broadway in Lorain, the small-but-growing meat processing company was recognized for exemplifying Ohio’s 1,100-plus food processing firms and other agricultural companies as part of the annual observance of Ohio Agriculture Week.
Ben Fligner, president of the firm and co-owner of the family-owned Fligner’s Market, accepted a proclamation from David T. Daniels, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, who said the potential for growth by numerous small Ohio food processing firms, including Great Lakes Smoked Meats, thanks to an August agreement between the state and federal agriculture departments that to allow sales by small and/or specialty Ohio meat processors outside Ohio.
The agreement applies to state-inspected businesses employing 25 or fewer workers.
“This will open up new markets and new opportunities for you,” Daniels said.
The new state-federal agreement will also serve to better showcase food and agricultural businesses, which generated $105 billion of Ohio’s total 2010 economic output of nearly $900 billion.
Food processing employs 60,000 people within 1,100-plus food processing firms, according to Erica Pitchford, communications director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
When the interstate agreement was announced in August, Fligner said it would allow the smokehouse business to expand and add employees to meet requests for its products by specialty groceries outside Ohio.
Great Lakes Smoked Meats is among the state’s first seven small-specialty meat processors to take advantage of the new state-federal agreement, according to Tomasz K. Citak, manager of the business.
While the wholesale business provided its products exclusively to Fligner’s at first, it has slowly expanded, and now counts the region’s 60-odd Marc’s stores as its biggest customer, Citak said.
The $1.5 million-plus, 7,000-square-foot meat processing facility opened in response to customer requests for locally produced sausages and smokies, according to Fligner at the time of the initial expansion.
The smokehouse, which employed two people in 2009 and now employs nine, was built in what used to be a parking lot.
Being able to do business outside the state will enable the small business to move ahead with plans to greatly expand, Citak said.
“We’re looking to more than double the amount of production within two years and to add more jobs,” Citak said.
The firm produces 1,200 pounds of sausages and smokies each day, Citak said.
The pending expansion will enable Great Lakes Smoked Meats to provide meat products for an as-yet-unnamed private label company that operates from coast to coast, according to Citak.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.