The West Michigan Shoreline Food Processing Initiative soon will become a reality.
The initiative, which was created in 2017 to promote the expansion of the food processing industry in West Michigan, received a $2-million grant from the state to build an incubator space to support startup businesses and businesses that have experienced longevity in the food industry.
The grant will go toward building a 30,000-square-foot Food Forward FARM (food, agriculture, research and manufacturing) incubator, according to Marty Gerencer, executive director for the West Michigan Shoreline Food Processing Initiative.
Dennis Marvin, senior consultant for WMSFPI, said the space will be located at 731 Yuba St., the site of a former Muskegon Farmers’ Market. The construction of the project will be carried out in three phases.
The first phase is the FARM incubator space, which is scheduled to be complete at the end of 2019. It will be a food grade industrial space with individual suites ranging from 5,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet.
“The first 30,000 square feet will include accommodation of office and floor space for tenants who are likely to be entrepreneurial (food processing) businesses that have started somewhere else but need more space and equipment,” Marvin said. “The tenants can be food processing businesses that are growing and producing products, food research companies or companies can use the office space to consult with food processing companies.”
The incubator facility can be used by businesses that are invested in the dairy industry, fruit and agriculture, beverages and distillery, food research, food manufacturing and packaging. Marvin said the meat industry is excluded from the project.
He said the other two phases do not have a start or end date for completion. However, phase two and phase three include adding additional square footage as the demand for more space in the facility grows.
According to the WMSFPI, phase two will include adding 20,000-30,000 square feet and phase three would add 40,000 square feet with freezer storage.
In addition to the $2-million grant, there was a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund the project last year. There also were other funding sources from private donors and a grant from the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.
Although there currently are no tenants to lease space in the facility, supporters of the initiative have taken other steps to further fulfillment of the initiative.
The Michigan State University Product Center agreed to offer its food business counseling services to potential tenants at the proposed FARM food-processing incubator and manufacturing facility.
The initiative also includes recruitment programs focusing on high school age students, employees in transition, current food-related workforce and veterans to educate them about entrepreneurship in the food industry.
Leaders are working in conjunction with Michigan State University and Muskegon Community College to establish an educational curriculum for existing and potentially new food processing companies.
“Our collective dream of realizing the West Michigan Shoreline Food Processing Initiative is making steady growth in several key areas,” Gerencer said. “We appreciate the support from all of our contributors and supporters. 2019 will be another year of significant progress.”