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Fair - No one along the production line was exploited for its creation

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Detroit Forms Food and Ag Business Support Network


It was clear at a meeting of Detroit-area food and farm entrepreneurs earlier this month that city and state leaders are beginning to invest in the food and agriculture sector’s potential to grow badly needed jobs and businesses.

Nearly 70 people filled the midtown church meeting hall Nov. 3 to launch the Detroit Ag and Food Business Cluster Network. Among dozens of new and old Detroit food names — such as Aunt Mid’s Produce (est. 1948) and McClure’s Pickles (est. 2007) — sat a full slate of city and state agencies intent on leveraging the job-generating power of Michigan food.


The attention is noteworthy, according to Dan Carmody, president of Detroit Eastern Market, a retail and wholesale food hub for the city for 120 years. Detroit Eastern Market is working with the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC), which is leading the effort to organize the business-to-business support network.

“For us it’s great to see food rising up the food chain as far as economic development,” Carmody said. Just a few years ago Michigan’s economic development focus was almost exclusively on the high-tech sector, he said, with whispers of “forget about it” when it came to proposing projects to support smaller food and farm businesses.

Now the everyday stabilizing value of jobs and business investment in the food and agriculture sector is drawing attention. Keith Creagh, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director, told the group that over the last decade Michigan’s food and agriculture industry has expanded five times faster than the general economy.

Avalon International Breads is one example of the food sector’s entrepreneurial power in Michigan’s challenging environment.


Bringing new economic lifeblood to midtown Detroit has been part of the organic artisan bread maker’s mission since 1997 when it converted a Willis Street storefront. Now overflowing with wholesale and retail activity, Avalon International Breads has found new interest from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) and others in helping the company expand.

“I’ve been trying to get a loan to grow for the last seven years,” said co-owner Ann Perrault. Now she’s working with agencies that are eager to help the company map out and finance growth opportunities, including distribution options that could serve other small businesses as well.

DEGC business retention manager Kenyetta Hairston-Bridges said Detroit’s strong base of food businesses is one of four industry clusters the economic development agency is now focused on growing by linking existing businesses and entrepreneurs.

The win-win opportunity of Detroit food businesses working together is obvious to Scott Keech, executive vice president of sales for Michigan Box Company, which has been in Detroit since its founding in 1927.

“We work with everyone from small startups to Fortune 500 companies,” he said. Keech explained the network is a good way for Michigan Box and other food and farm entrepreneurs to connect, share ideas, and join forces as a business community.

Camille Walker, manager of metro-Detroit business development for the MEDC, said she’s eager to work with food and farm businesses, and that she now has more ability to do that. “For years I was the only person from MEDC working in the city of Detroit. Now there is a team of us working here.” 

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