With federal money in sight, the region-wide collaboration is moving quickly – and Barry County committed on Tuesday.
During their committee-wide meeting, the commissioners approved a letter of support for the West Michigan Agricultural Technology and Regional Food Systems Initiative.
This initiative is led by Erin Kuhn, Executive Director of the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission in Muskegon. His commission is one of many economic development organizations in the western part of the state joining together to seek multi-million dollar grants.
For the proposal, “the focus is on agricultural food processing,” Western Michigan Regional Planning Commission director Dave Bee said on Tuesday.
The idea, he said, is to increase the capacity of farms and food processors and people who process food.
Why ship products – and the work associated with processing them – out of state, Bee asked.
“Turn apples into applesauce,” he said.
Supporting a Build Back Better grant proposal – which is part of the US Economic Development Administration’s part of the American Rescue Plan Art funds – does not commit the county to any specific action. But that could open up opportunities for additional funds, Bee said, if they get the grant.
It’s a big if.
The two-phase grant involves a study first and then a project phase, Bee said.
And it’s very competitive.
“Probably only 50 will be awarded nationwide,” said Bee, who is based in Grand Rapids.
In his talking points, Kuhn noted that Michigan is one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the country – with more than 9,000 farms in the western Michigan region alone.
“With a long history of manufacturing and processing food, the region is a prime location for the expansion and growth of this sector,” she wrote. “This is an opportunity for farmers, good manufacturers, technology providers and entrepreneurs to capitalize on the development of value-added products that will lead to the creation and / or expansion of new operations. “
With over 300 different locally grown raw products, pointed out Kuhn, a location close to major population centers in the Midwest, abundant freshwater, and the accelerator of food, agriculture, research and education. manufacturing, “Western Michigan is ideally located to take advantage of this growth and assert its position as a world leader in food, agriculture, research and manufacturing around AgFoodTech. “
The West Michigan Food Processing Association was formed in 2017 to establish and grow a regional network for food companies and other participants in the food supply chain.
WMFPA’s goal is to connect food businesses with national / international resources to catapult food systems into modernized agricultural technologies and innovations, supporting a triple bottom line of economic, environmental and social impacts, Kuhn wrote.
Then, last August, the association and the Michigan State University Product Center announced a partnership to share their expertise in agri-food innovation.
The MSU product center will expand its outreach efforts by managing the FARM food processing accelerator developed by the association.
This facility in Muskegon will provide space and technical assistance for entrepreneurs and businesses to develop new product and service ideas in the food, agriculture and bioenergy markets, according to a joint announcement.
AgFunder’s Agribusiness Investment Report 2021 ranked Michigan as the third largest state for its investments in this sector of the economy, due to its cold chain logistics, automation software and its innovations ranging from rationalizing productive agriculture to redefining convenient and healthy local food supply.
Organizations in the region excel individually in the food, agriculture, research, manufacturing and business sectors, noted Kuhn, but a holistic approach is needed to use regional and national expertise to to maximize growth potential.
Federal support through a regional challenge grant “would allow the region to increase its capacity and create better access to resources,” she said.
“This, in turn, will help strengthen the regional food system and equip the workforce of the future, based on science and a data-driven protocol, thereby increasing the economic, environmental and Western Michigan Region Food Social Reports. “
As Bee put it simply, “We make it locally to benefit from it locally.”
One aspect of the project that could be considered for Barry County, he said, would be to improve cold storage here.
In his list of project ideas, Kuhn mentioned that Barry County is currently conducting a cold storage capacity feasibility study.
The initiative envisions high-tech, high-paying jobs in the food industry.
With increased capacity and access to resources, the regional food system would be strengthened and equip the workforce of the future, she wrote.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the global food supply chain, leaving food companies and other supply chain participants to begin to reorient work with regional networks and logistics,” he said Kuhn said. “In many situations, regional actors ultimately provided the solution by delivering food to retail, schools and food banks, as the state and country continued to redirect the flow of food. …
“As the flow of food was redirected from institutions, restaurants and the like, food companies were forced to repackage huge amounts of food suitable for retail, creating an opportunity for the expertise of MSU in packaging and new AgTech companies with innovative solutions, to become a greater need. for the food industry.
The crisis has forced food companies to explore and implement solutions so that operations become more effective and efficient in the factory.
“Strengthening regional networks and supply chains through the work of WMFPA and other partners will ensure supply chain resilience in the future,” she noted.
Kuhn suggested a variety of project ideas that could be funded by the federal grant, including:
• Capacity building of the WMFPA regional network and supply chain logistics.
• Technical assistance and training on new technologies to meet current food industry needs related to food waste reduction in landfills, sustainable packaging, energy efficient constructions and minimally processed foods.
• Workforce development efforts to address labor and skill shortages in agricultural production and food manufacturing through partnerships with MSU Institute of Agricultural Technology, community colleges local and state workforce development agencies.
• Increase programming opportunities for the FARM center.
• A mobile food processing unit and equipment.
• A regional analysis of hydraulic infrastructure, including drinking water and wastewater treatment capacity to serve the food sector and potential construction projects related to capacity needs.