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Dreaming of cheese, jobs in New York field

  • Story Highlights
  • Entrepreneur has long dreamed of building high-end specialty cheese factory
  • He sees plot of barren farmland as future home of $40 million feta-and-brie plant
  • Key selling point: Product would meet strict standards of Jewish, Muslim faiths
  • He hopes factory can help turn around declines in manufacturing, employment
By Poppy Harlow
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AUBURN, New York (CNNMoney.com) -- Is cheese the answer for Cayuga County, New York?

Hemminger's Hemdale Farms has agreed to supply kosher milk to Rosenbaum's cheese factory.

Larry Rosenbaum surveys the field where he hopes to build a high-end specialty cheese factory.

Like small towns all across America, this agricultural community is suffering, with unemployment approaching 10 percent.

Entrepreneur Larry Rosenbaum thinks he can do his part to turn things around. For a decade, the insurance man by trade has been dreaming of building a factory for high-end specialty cheese.

One key selling point: His product would meet the strictest standards of the Jewish and Muslim faiths.

Rosenbaum says the demand for kosher and halal cheese is high but the selection is slim. So he's been eyeing a plot of barren farmland between Aurelius and Auburn -- two Cayuga towns -- as the future home of a $40 million, 64,000-square-foot factory that would churn out feta and brie.

The goal is for his company, Saratoga Cheese Corp., to produce 30 million pounds of cheese in the first year and distribute it domestically and internationally.

"It's the beginning of a trend of bringing back manufacturing industry to New York," said Rosenbaum. According to the Public Policy Institute of New York State, manufacturing in New York declined more than 30 percent between 1997 and 2007. Video Watch Rosenbaum talk about his plans »

Rosenbaum estimates that Saratoga Cheese Corp. would bring 75 factory jobs and 150 temporary construction jobs to the region. Plans also include 50 yeshiva work-study students to be placed on participating farms. In addition, several rabbis and imams would supervise production.

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If Saratoga Cheese can get off the ground, it could mean a boost for local farmers like Dale Hemminger, who has agreed to supply kosher milk to Saratoga Cheese Corp.

Hemminger says it could be a crucial new market for his milk. And though he was at first skeptical of Rosenbaum's plan, Hemminger says he admires Rosenbaum's vision.

But that vision is still $10 million short of becoming reality. Rosenbaum has secured $30 million in government grants, loans and private funding, but needs $40 million before Saratoga Cheese Corp. can break ground. Given the recession, securing the final amount is proving no small feat.

According to Bill Teator, a board member of Saratoga Cheese Corp., the best-case scenario is a combination of investment by a kosher dairy company and private lending. Teator says that though investors are confident about the business plan, the economic environment makes it tough to secure the needed cash.

But support from local lawmakers is abundant. Republican state Sen. Michael Nozzolio is optimistic that Saratoga Cheese Corp. will find a home in his 54th District. And with an estimated $140 million in local revenue hanging in the balance, there's reason to hope.

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Recession or not, Rosenbaum is steadfast in his belief. For him, it's not a question of if the factory will get built, but when.

"We're not going to quit until we make it," says Rosenbaum. It's a persistence that is necessary in a recession that has proved legendary.

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