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Rural Development Financing Boosts Local Food Business Incubation

September 26, 2013

USDA Rural Development grant and loan awards announced

Last week, at the White House Rural Council’s Forum on Regional Innovation, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced loan and grant awards to create jobs and support regional economic development.  The White House Rural Council coordinates the Obama Administration’s efforts to improve the effectiveness of federal programs serving rural America.

Secretary Vilsack, who chairs the White House Rural Council, announced the selection of 186 projects for USDA Rural Development loans and grants to support economic development in rural communities.  The funding is being provided through the Community Facilities program, the Intermediary Relending Program, the Rural Business Opportunity Grant Program and the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program.

Appalachian Center for Economic Networks – Local Food Acclerator

Among the Rural Business Opportunity Grant (RBOG) awardees is the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet), a 28 year-old not-for-profit, community-based economic development organization in Athens County, Ohio.  With over 20 years of experience operating business incubation centers, ACEnet was awarded a $65,000 RBOG grant for its “Local Food Processing Accelerator” project, which will help support local food entrepreneurs through training, technical assistance and expanded food incubation services in the 32 counties of Appalachia Ohio.

Facilities manager at Food Ventures Center

Facilities Manager Richard Lehman at the Food Ventures Center Consumer Processing Room (Photo courtesy of ACEnet)

ACEnet operates five business incubator facilities targeting microenterprise development in the cities of Athens and Nelsonville, Ohio.  A standout among its business incubators is the ACEnet Food Ventures Program, which has been offering a wide range of technical assistance, capacity building, shared-use manufacturing and other services for food processors, family farmers, restaurants and small retailers since 1996.

By the end of December 2012, 131 regional food and farm enterprises were utilizing the Food Ventures Center incubation services, with another 20 being housed in the mixed-use facilities on the Athens Incubator campus.  The Nelsonville Business Incubator houses four food related businesses and in the summer of 2013 added a 10,000 square foot facility to serve as the Nelsonville Food Hub to accommodate packing, packaging and enhanced distribution capabilities.

ACEnet also provides group branding for local food businesses to reach more profitable markets.  One example, the “Food We Love” brand, markets regional products under its umbrella, allowing small businesses to pool resources and increase marketing impact, while increasing recognition for regional foods.

"Foods We Love" brand signage

“Foods We Love” brand signage (Photo courtesy of ACEnet)

Local Food Processing Accelerator Project aims to replicate success

The Local Food Processing Accelerator project will institutionalize an outreach, incubation and training system to serve specialty food processors and agricultural producers to meet the growing regional demand for local food, creating a model system that can be replicated in other communities interested in providing branding, capital access and other business development services to food enterprises.

Jars of vanilla dessert sauce at the Food Ventures Center

Jars of vanilla dessert sauce at the Food Ventures Center (Photo courtesy of ACEnet)

The project anticipates job creation and retention through the start-up and expansion of food enterprises.  Specifically, the project expects to contribute to the creation of 20 new food enterprise start-ups, 20 food enterprise expansions and a minimum of 30 new and 30 retained jobs.  Additionally, at least 200 people are expected to participate in trainings and a minimum of 100 food enterprises are expected to benefit from incubation and technical assistance services.  At least 100 food enterprises are expected to participate in regional branding programs.

“USDA rural grant and loan programs are critical to providing seed capital that allows organizations like ACEnet to innovate and replicate best practices from rural communities across the US,” says Leslie Schaller, Director of Programming with ACEnet.  “RBOG and similar programs should be adequately funded to help spur rural entrepreneurs and businesses and grow regional economies.”
ACEnet is one of six organizations that are part of the Central Appalachian Network, an NSAC member organization.

Categories: Local & Regional Food Systems, Rural Development

One response to “Rural Development Financing Boosts Local Food Business Incubation”

  1. Thanks for the great blog post from our friends at NSAC who have provided a wonderful peer network all these years for us working on the ground to serve farmers and further sustainable development in our communities. I would also like to acknowledge our hard-working staff at Ohio Rural Development, especially Director Tony Logan and Debbie Rausch, who are stalwart supporters of ACEnet, our regional partners and our food and farm entrepreneurs. We will continue to strive to live up to the standards and support USDA Rural Development provides as we build a stronger, healthier and more resilient food economy in Appalachia Ohio.