On Oct. 1, 2013, with funds from a Federal Economic Development Association (EDA) grant, the University of Wisconsin-Extension began a statewide assessment of Wisconsin’s food processing and manufacturing support infrastructure. This assessment will identify current assets, gaps, and industry needs; and develop a statewide plan, which could include a central facility that provides technical assistance to business and entrepreneurs, incubator space, and other amenities to spur industry innovations.
Supporters of the grant to UW-Extension include Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the Food & Beverage Industry Council of SE Wisconsin (FaB Milwaukee), Milwaukee Urban Economic Development Association (UEDA), the Organic Processing Institute (OPI), UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison.
Boosting Wisconsin’s more than 1000 food processing firms, which employ 62,000 people and have combined annual revenues of $10 billion, would have significant positive impacts on Wisconsin’s economy.
With the state’s highest concentration of food manufacturers located in SE Wisconsin, Shelley Jurewicz, Executive Director of FaB (Food and Beverage) Milwaukee realizes the potential of this project. She said, “In addition to the essential resources such as FaB’s pending food accelerator program, our processors, manufacturers and artisans would benefit from a place-based asset connecting innovators to processing equipment and the expertise of UW-Extension.”
This grant will enable UW-Extension to bring on board Mary Pat Carlson, a statewide expert on food entrepreneurship and value-added food processing with twelve years experience consulting on starting and operating incubator kitchens as well as founding and running two incubators herself.
“The opportunity to work with the University of Wisconsin-Extension is very exciting,” Carlson said, “Wisconsin has a strong history of innovation in the food sector of the economy. This Economic Development Association supported project will help define what the future holds for emerging, expanding, and established food businesses in the State of Wisconsin by helping identify the resources and support needed for continued growth.”
Focus groups, interviews and surveys with food entrepreneurs, incubator kitchen managers, start-up business owners, and existing food processing company managers in Milwaukee and around the state will identify gaps and industry needs. Urban Economic Development Association (UEDA) will partner in holding focus groups in Milwaukee.
“There are several groups and organizations in Milwaukee that are poised to launch new food processing ventures that could use additional support that a statewide food innovation facility would provide. This EDA grant will enable UEDA to help identify the challenges that these entrepreneurial efforts face in communities that are grappling with high unemployment and high poverty and help create a plan that will enhance economic development and create new jobs for Milwaukee citizens and residents of Southeastern Wisconsin,” said Bill Johnson, UEDA Executive Director.
The Organic Processing Institute (OPI) will partner in holding focus groups across the state. Carla Wright, OPI Executive Director said, “We grow a lot of products in Wisconsin that manufacturers can add value to; because the growing season is short, the business of food manufacturing is extremely important to Wisconsin. OPI’s programs and services include a commitment to research addressing the needs of food processors and entrepreneurs
To develop the statewide plan, UW-Extension specialists, university experts and industry leaders will visit several research and development facilities in other states to gain perspective on how these types of facilities look and function around the nation. This first-hand knowledge combined with the statewide input, will provide insight on improving Wisconsin’s support infrastructure for food processing and manufacturing and will inform the preliminary business plan for a Wisconsin Food Innovation Facility that will elevate Wisconsin as a national leader in innovative food process and manufacturing.
WEDC is the statewide economic development agency created in 2011 to replace the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. Value-added food processing, manufacturing, and food safety are targeted development priorities within the food sector. Learn more about WEDC at http://inwisconsin.com
FaB Milwaukee is a food and beverage manufacturing cluster network formed by the Milwaukee 7 Regional Economic Development Organization with support from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Its goal is to shape an economic food future that results in industry job growth. Learn more about FaB atwww.fabmilwaukee.com
UEDA is a statewide nonprofit membership Economic Development Organization working to enhance, promote and advocate for Economic development and job creation activity in Southeast Wisconsin. Learn more about UEDA at www.uedawi.org
OPI is a nonprofit formed to educate, connect, and encourage new and existing processors and to expand opportunities for the organic business sector in the Upper Midwest. Learn more about OPI at http://www.organicprocessinginstitute.org/
Find out more about this project at https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/foodbin/