The South Willamette Valley is a region known for great food and an ever-growing lineup of wineries, craft breweries, cideries and distilleries. Culinary tourism is growing with events like the Oregon Truffle Festival and businesses like Camas Country Mill which opened a bakery adjacent to their wheat fields.

To better understand and appreciate the surge of Lane County’s food and beverage sector, our October TALC (Tourism Around Lane County) interview featured a discussion with food and beverage strategist Micah Elconin.  Micah, a man of many talents, quick with a smile and “all-in” attitude for his work, met Rick Dancer and me at Oregon Wine Lab. We wanted to know what a food and beverage strategist does, how this sector has developed and what does he see for its future. See the video of our interview below. 

For those of us who have known Micah for some time, there’s always been a debate about the pronunciation of his last name and our meetup provided me with the opportunity to finally end the debate. Or so I thought. With a laugh, Micah noted, “my parents don’t agree on the pronunciation.” With a last name like Vobora, I’m familiar with mispronunciations of my name, and like Micah, it doesn’t bother me much. (For the record, if you go with “L Con In” you would be in good standing.)

With a background that includes rock climbing, being a professional chef and operating a business consulting company, Micah seems to be the right person to bring together and support our local food and beverage manufacturers. “I’m a big-picture guy,” Micah states as we discuss the importance of this sector.  “What people think about when you mention food and beverage is our restaurant community, and what folks don’t realize about the food and beverage industry is the other side of the spectrum and that’s that there are 172 food and beverage manufacturers in Lane County…”

Even for someone who has lived in Lane County for over 40 years and works in the business community daily, I was surprised by the number of local manufacturers. This is one more sign that Lane County has diversified its economic base. No longer are we primarily timber– now we are a hub for food and beverage, technology, tourism and more. With more than 4,000 employees in the food and beverage sector, it appears that food and beverage are positioned well for future growth. Or is it? 

Challenges facing the industry include competition with brands that don’t maintain the same high standards for ethical and sustainable processes and products. This is why Eugene’s Table has formed.  Eugene’s Table is the umbrella under which Micah is bringing the sector together. Together to tell their stories about what distinguishes them and their products, and together to integrate with Lane County businesses that retail products to locals and visitors. 

Micah ended our discussion by sharing a historical accounting of how early Oregonians had to “really want to get here” and how these struggles have led to the development of our local products. I loved the way he summed this up by saying, “…our local products are produced with a fervor and an unrelenting commitment to getting it done.”  I get a good sense that this is also how Micah approaches his daily work.  And with this level of commitment, our food and beverage sector is in the right hands.