Strategy: Enliven Downtowns with Local Food Products

09/1/2012

Kalamazoo’s Can-Do Kitchen, a project of Fair Food Matters. Courtesy of Fair Food Matters. (view larger image)

Kalamazoo’s Can-Do Kitchen, a project of Fair Food Matters. Courtesy of Fair Food Matters.

Many communities around the state are working to help Michigan’s food entrepreneurs grow their enterprises from home-based extra income to businesses that provide jobs for others, too. In addition, a few communities are strategically focused on attracting shoppers and businesses to their downtowns with those new food entrepreneurs and their products.

One example is the mid-Michigan city of Harrison, which recently received $250,000 from USDA Rural Development to renovate downtown property into a commercial kitchen for community and food entrepreneur use. City clerk Tracey Beadle said the city is working with Middle Michigan Development Corp., the economic agency for Isabella and Clare counties, to develop the commercial kitchen as well as a three-season farmers’ market.

“The whole idea is to get those businesses up and running and hopefully located in some of the storefronts downtown that are empty now,” Beadle said.

Another that has taken the incubator kitchen approach to filling shelves and storefronts is Niles, in the state’s far southwest corner. The organizer of that effort is Niles Main Street, a group of civic leaders that is part of the Michigan Main Street program, which helps communities get their downtown revitalization efforts organized.

Niles renovated the second story of an historic downtown building, which was once the city’s business club. Funding came through a local community foundation along with some federal Community Development Block Grant funding from the city. 

The purpose of the food business incubator, according to program manager Lisa Croteau, is to start businesses; particularly businesses that will sell products in Niles and help build its reputation as a “foodie” place. Ms. Croteau explains the group’s next goal is a permanent downtown market building that can help build wholesale markets while also attracting more food attention and investment to downtown Niles.

The City of Hart in West Michigan is also exploring the potential to connect food business incubators with downtown development, according to Michigan Main Street manager Laura Krizov. Hart is home to the state’s most advanced food business incubator, the Starting Block, which is located in the city’s industrial park.