MUSKEGON, MI – Less than a year into its work, the West Michigan Shoreline Food Processing Initiative is touting its successes.

The initiative seeks to grow West Michigan’s food processing capacity and turn Muskegon into a key shipping port for those goods. It launched during fall 2017.

Since its inception, the organization has secured funding, conducted studies, reviewed best practices, developed educational curriculum, identified industrial park locations and is researching a food processing incubation and pilot manufacturing center.

 

 

Most recently, the initiative was granted $50,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“USDA is committed to supporting Michigan agriculture and helping rural communities prosper,” Jason Allen, USDA Rural Development state director for Michigan, said in a statement. “This is a great example of how we are working with numerous partners to boost local producers and create jobs.”

The initiative was kick-started with a $232,728 donation from the Consumers Energy Foundation during October 2017. At the time, Marty Gerencer, initiative manager, announced goals including an industrial park, food processing education, product incubation and logistics.

The site of the former B.C. Cobb electric generating plant on Muskegon Lake, which had been owned by Consumers Energy and closed in 2016, is expected to become an agricultural shipping port.

To-date, the initiative has accomplished the following:

  • Conducted economic impact studies that concluded that more food aggregating, processing and distributing in West Michigan would positively impact agriculture and communities;
  • Reviewed best practices for other areas, including a fact-finding visit to the Fingers Lake region of New York, and confirmed that advanced food program processing enhances employment, tax benefits and development;
  • Developed an education curriculum with Michigan State University and Muskegon Community College to work with existing and new food processors;
  • Identified potential food processing manufacturing industrial park locations.

The initiative is also working with a Muskegon-area developer on a food processing incubation and pilot manufacturing center proposed on Yuba Street in Muskegon. The $5-$7 million project is expected to yield a 100,000- to 120,000-square-foot facility at the site of a former farmers market.

Shipping and transportation is a key part of the initiative. That likely will fall to the new owner of the Cobb plant property, Foresite Development of North Carolina, to which Consumers Energy transferred ownership in 2017. The new owner is slowly removing the nearly 70-year-old power plant in preparation to become a shipping hub.

“We have been investing in healthy food access and food systems for several years,” Chris McGuigan, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, said in a statement. “This is the next step in that work, creating cross-sector collaboration that pulls together education, business, government and agriculture. This initiative will create substantial impact through new jobs, educational opportunities and increased healthy food access for Muskegon County.” 

Article taken from M-Live, Sept 10, 2018