Friday, February 12, 2010

Creating opportunities

I got to meet up with statewide friends this week at the Wisconsin Economic Development Association meeting.

Many compelling discussions with a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship. Great to see the grow-your-own enterprises theme continuing to emerge.

My take-away from the event came from a longtime economic developer who had led a previous life as a serial entrepreneur. We were talking about how economic development organizations were measured.

His strongest point was that economic developers don't create jobs. Business people create jobs.

He's right of course. So what is it that economic developers can do well?

My notion of what economic developers CAN do is create opportunities. More on this at the end.

The Driftless Foods vegetable processing and freezing facility continues to emerge. The group held its first grower information meeting this week. The idea was to tell people what the process looked like right now for growing vegetables for the new plant in the future. There is a link at the end to this article.

Editor Jim Massey of The Country Today Magazine did a great interview with Mark this week about his vision for Driftless Foods.

I thought this piece was especially good because Mark is highlighting that this is a market-based response to demand he himself is experiencing. As a proven entrepreneur and as a creative food innovator Mark is telling us what he and his peer-innovators need.

"Seven words on Olson's Renaissance Farm office wall explain some of the thinking behind the project.

'I Benefit, You Benefit, We All Benefit,' the phrase reads.

'If I (as a small producer) need something, [editor: processing to scale] then my peers need it as well,' he said. 'I have a friend who makes pasta. He and I do the same thing - we're out there driving around marketing our products. The idea is if you can get a group of people to work together then you could get economy of scale relatively quicker."

Yep. What Mark said.

I got to talk about our design a bit, but focused on the need to take action steps; "This is built to be replicated over and over," he said. "Everybody is saying, 'What if,' or, 'We should study this a little further,' " Terrien said. "We're saying let's not just talk about it, let's try it out. Let's put one foot in front of another and get something done."

Terrien said the idea is to build a 'hub-and-spoke system' with the freezer facility being the hub."

My favorite quote from Jim Massey's piece comes from Stan Gruszynski, State Director of USDA Rural Development in Wisconsin. Stan has watched our project grow and has been very generous with his counsel as well as the invitation last week to make a USDA presentation in Chippewa Falls (previous post)

Here is Stan, from the article: "I think rural Wisconsin is just on the cusp of getting into this sort of thing. Hospitals, for example, want to buy commodities, poultry and meat from the local community, but they need a consistent supply. Things like this could happen with agencies like ours providing some of the resources in the local community. I think it can be done."

Thanks very much to Jim Massey and The Country Today for this and for the very nice piece recently about our new Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen.

So, back to the grower information meetings we held last week for people interested in growing vegetables for the new processing plant.

Barry Adams from the Wisconsin State Journal did a nice piece about the meeting. He covered the topic nicely and also caught me red handed with my 'opportunities' agenda…

"'We're trying to make opportunities,' said Rick Terrien, executive director of the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp.

Tom Novak, a dairy farmer from Highland, said he came to Wednesday's meeting out of curiosity.

'I'm looking for opportunities,' Novak said.

Jeremy Litchfield, 35, of Dodgeville grows a variety of vegetables that he sells to Sam & Maddies, where he is a cook, but would like to more than double the size of his acreage, which is now a three-quarter-acre plot of land. He says the proposed plant would be beneficial for growers.

'It's a way to keep their farms growing,' Litchfield said."

Rural economies are rich in entrepreneurs - every farmer is an entrepreneur. They want to grow. They want to innovate. Just as with Mark's quote above referring to the need for processing capacity, these entrepreneurs need opportunities and infrastructure to nurture their innovations and grow their businesses and to create jobs and invigorate their rural communities.

Economic developers can't make jobs, but they can make opportunities.

Sounds like a plan.

Country Today story about Driftless Foods by Jim Massey.

Wisconsin State Journal article about the first Driftless Foods grower information meeting by Barry Adams.

Wisconsin Economic Development Assn. (WEDA)

Recent article in The Country Today about the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen by Jim Massey.

Mark's Renaissance Farm

No comments: