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Published in Food/Agribusiness

Federal grant to support launch of West Michigan food research center, incubator

BY Tuesday, October 13, 2020 04:31pm

A West Michigan food processing research center and incubator is among beneficiaries of federal grant funding to bolster small businesses in West and Southwest Michigan.

Economic development organization Muskegon Area First received $33,500 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business Development Grant Program to purchase kitchen equipment for the Food, Agriculture, Research, Manufacturing (FARM) Business Incubator Center in Muskegon. 

WMFPA Executive Director Marty Gerencer COURTESY PHOTO

The grant was just a portion of the $338,525 in USDA funding that will benefit rural small businesses in the region. The funding was announced on Monday by Michigan Sen. Gary Peters and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

The West Michigan Food Processing Association, which formed earlier this year and is part of Muskegon Area First, has made the development of the $2 million FARM Business Incubator Center a major focus of its mission to serve food processors throughout the local community.

The 12,000-square-foot facility on Muskegon Community College’s campus will provide tools and training for small food entrepreneurs looking to scale up their operations. It’s slated to open in early 2021.

WMFPA Executive Director Marty Gerencer called the recent grant “crucial” to securing the needed equipment for the incubator and opening the doors by early 2021, especially since fundraising during a pandemic has been difficult.

“Securing funding was extremely difficult during the COVID pandemic,” Gerencer told MiBiz. “The West Michigan food industry and other key partners at the state and federal level have stepped up to support the association and FARM as they see it as a successful pathway to transform the food industry through technology, healthier food and more sustainable practices in West Michigan over the next several years.”

The federal funding is the latest assistance directed to local farmers and food processors. Earlier this month, dozens of Michigan farms and food processors received a total of $15 million in Michigan Agricultural Safety Grants to create safer work conditions for employees and protect the food industry as a whole during the pandemic.

The USDA grants announced this week were also directed to area municipalities, planning organizations and companies. 

The village of Paw Paw and Chikaming Township received $89,025 and $75,000, respectively, for streetscape projects. The Southwestern Michigan Planning Commission received $65,000 to create a Southwest Michigan food brand to be used by local farmers and business owners to promote local products. Utility Midwest Energy & Communications received $76,000 to fund engineering costs associated with a new rail spur into the SMART Industrial Park.

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