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Monday, October 31, 2011

Entrepreneurs, food business innovation go together


It’s widely understood in economic development circles that if you want new entrepreneurs to start up and grow, a good strategy is to bring them together and let the creativity roll.
            A good example is People’s Pierogi Collective, which grew in one year from a startup hot food cart at Detroit’s Eastern Market to contract talks with local and regional grocers and requests to franchise nationwide.



Founder Kimberly Stricker is keeping the franchise potential in mind as she ramps up her new business, currently at nine part-time employees and growing. People’s Pierogi Collective produces pierogis (filled dumplings) for retail outlets and for food cart sales at farmers markets and locations around southeast Michigan.
Peer Power. Stricker attributes much of her success so far to the diverse community of customers, other small businesses, and related resources she has found in and around Eastern Market, a retail and wholesale hub for fresh food sales and local food enterprises since 1891.
Just as economists predict, when similar businesses cluster together at places like Eastern Market, new products, sales, and needed facilities and services emerge.
“Eastern Market has really been pivotal,” Stricker says. “It’s a big part of what changed us into a real business.”
Making sure more Michigan communities have districts like Eastern Market, where food entrepreneurs can connect and innovate, is a powerful way to accomplish the job and economic development potential of the growing local and regional food sector. Such districts can provide valuable business-to-business synergy and stimulate development of new enterprises to fulfill needs many local food entrepreneurs have in common, such as smaller-scale food processing and distribution.
Frank Gublo, a business counselor with MSU’s Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources, often points his clients in the direction of Eastern Market and other places where they can hook up with and learn from other small businesses, and conduct low-cost market research and product development.
“I tell clients, before they launch, they should really be engaged in a community like that at Eastern Market, he said. “Even though they might not sell there for very long, people there know how to do things. It’s where they can go to learn and connect.”
Toolkit in the works. Michigan communities will soon benefit from a 2012 USDA-funded project to provide guidance on what such districts look like and how to develop them locally.
The Northwest Michigan Council of Governments, in conjunction with the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at MSU, will lead the effort to build a toolkit of effective planning, zoning, and economic development approaches to fostering the growth of “food innovation districts” in Michigan.
For more information about that effort, contact Sarah Lucas of NWMCOG (231.929.5034, sarahlucas@nwm.cog.mi.us) or Kathryn Colasanti at the Mott Group (517.353.0642, colokat@msu.edu).

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