Planting the Seeds of Connectivity
The mission and goal of the West Michigan Food Processing Association is to connect West Michigan’s existing Food Processing Industry from “farm to table” by taking a holistic approach to link farmers, food processors, state and local government and economic development officials, and the educational institutions that are able to train the current and future workforce. The focus is to capitalize on the strength of the region’s assets such as the Muskegon County Waste Water Management System that has available capacity to treat the growing waste water requirements of the food processing industry that exists in very few communities in the country.
With over 5,000 farms in the region and a strong history of food processing including companies such as Gerber, Kellogg’s, and Continental Dairy, along with new processors such as La Colombe, the West Michigan region already accounts for 43% of Michigan’s food processing jobs. There's room for growth given that Michigan continues to “export” over 80% of what is grown in-state to out-of-state food processors only for the finished product to return to in-state grocery stores and markets.
Going forward, the implementation focus of the Initiative is to work with local officials and private sector firms to develop “shovel ready” food processing industrial parks that have the infrastructure in place specific to supporting the requirements of a food processing manufacturer. In particular, companies who need waste water treatment capacity and those who want to export at a location with access to a deep water port, will find these attributes at an industrial park location in Muskegon County. Others may find the Fremont Industrial Park in Newaygo to be an ideal location, especially given its access to Gerber Nestle or major fruit and vegetable growers.
The Initiative's focus on growing the food processing industry also includes a collaborative effort to develop a new facility that will offer food-grade industrial space with individual suites. The FARM (Food, Agriculture, Research,& Manufacturing) is being designed to offer flexible lease and space options for entities ranging from fast-growing start-ups to well-established companies in the food processing industry. The proposed food processing incubator/manufacturing facility is slated for start-up in 2020.
In the end, the West Michigan Shoreline Food Processing Association is “planting the seeds of connectivity in the region and throughout the world to be holistic, supportive, and a catalyst for growth.”