Friday, December 18, 2009

Building development landscapes

The idea I've been working on this year is that it's possible to build economic development landscapes. That is, design systems that let people enter the process of economic development at multiple points. You don't plant a tree or two. You try to create a sustainable landscape in which a wide range of interrelated opportunities for growth exist.

In my current job, because of the amazing assets we have in place, I'm working to make Iowa County a premier location to learn about and participate in agriculture and local foods entrepreneurship.

Our Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen will allow beginning food entrepreneurs to get into the game professionally, with greatly lowered barriers to entry.

Existing small food enterprises can use the kitchen to reach new, higher levels of quality, sales and profitability.

At this end of the landscape spectrum there will be many, many points of entry for individuals and small businesses.

At the other end of this spectrum the Driftless Foods project is moving forward. This has felt like the best startup idea I've ever seen since the first moments that Mark and I started talking.

Driftless Foods offers a chance for some serious meta-level good. There is a strong component to helping farmers stay on their farms by building the infrastructure they need to process local foods at a scale that can profitably support regions. It's a way to help people to get into farming and to help existing farmers securely diversify their sources of income.

The project recently got a very nice recommendation from the Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Rod Nilsestuen.

"The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection strongly supports Driftless Foods and The Iowa County Economic Development Corporation in their efforts to create a vegetable processing and freezing facility.

A facility such as this will help meet the growing demand for locally grown foods, a demand that is increasingly important to the vitality of Wisconsin agriculture.

I firmly believe that Wisconsin's future is tied to the success of our agricultural sector, and the success of that sector depends on innovation and diversity. We need to keep farmland in farming and farm families on their farms. This project can help us do both. It also creates new job opportunities in your region and opens new economic development possibilities.

I can also see in this project the opportunity to create a model for processing locally grown foods that other communities can follow. This model promises to celebrate local foods, be profitable, and return value directly to the producers, the communities they live in, and the regions that support them."

What a wonderful, insightful show of support. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary!

So with the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen opening at one end of the spectrum and Driftless Foods launching at the other end of the spectrum, we've got a fairly diverse development landscape underway.

In the middle of that spectrum are some really delightful co-conspirators helping to knit this effort together.

We met today to plan the first information sessions for our regional growers. This will all take varying amounts of time. The Innovation Kitchen will be open in the Spring for food processing on a small to moderate scale. For the larger scale of Driftless Foods growers need to plan well in advance for joining this kind of enterprise.

We will have 3 informational meetings focusing on Driftless Foods in January and February. Because this is a diversified effort, we will also be able to support interested growers with information about the Innovation Kitchen.

The first two dates are not quite set, but the details for the third meeting are in place. We will dedicate the February 24th Entrepreneur Club meeting in Dodgeville to this grower information session. I'll post details below.

So, the development landscape grows across the spectrum and we can soon begin inviting people in.

This has been an amazing year watching and learning from this experiment in economic development landscapes.

Letter of support from Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Rod Nilsestuen

Link to the Iowa County Entrepreneur and Inventor Club page. Our Feb. 24th meeting will focus on opportunities for regional growers being created by the Driftless Foods project.

Photos are from our magical Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point. Our EDC was able to host the quarterly meeting of the Thrive Economic Development Pros at Shake Rag Alley last Friday. Our meeting was in the replica 1840s carpenter's cabinet shop. Karla and her great team had it beautifully decorated to receive area children for Santa's visit the next day so the atmosphere was great. Thanks to all who came and shared beautiful Iowa County with us!

Mark Olson and Renaissance Farm

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Couldnt agree more with that, very attractive article