Food and beverage start-ups get a helping hand

Milwaukee has been a home to food and beverage makers since the city’s beginnings, when breweries and slaughterhouses were among the earliest industries.

Now, a new effort is proceeding to support small food and beverage companies, with plans to open shared labs for those businesses by fall 2016.

Also, an industry group plans to create a second Milwaukee facility with space for food and beverage makers, including start-ups. That could complement a possible Menomonee Valley business park dedicated to the food industry.

The second facility would be comparable to the Water Council’s Global Water Center, 247 W. Freshwater Way, which houses businesses tied to the water technology industry, and the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium’s Energy Innovation Center, 4201 N. 27th St., which is leasing space to energy, power and control technology firms.

“It would be a center of excellence for the food and beverage industry,” said Shelley Jurewicz, executive director of FaB Wisconsin, the food and beverage industry networking group that is leading the effort.

The center would house both small food and beverage makers, as well as satellite offices for larger industry firms, Jurewicz said.

It also would house offices for FaB Wisconsin, which has 135 companies among its members; support services, such as law and accounting firms; and possibly satellite offices for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and other institutions, Jurewicz said.

“We can support those food and beverage companies that are in the start-up phase,” said Giacomo Fallucca, chief executive officer at frozen pizza maker Palermo Villa Inc. and a FaB Wisconsin executive committee co-chair.

FaB Wisconsin announced Tuesday it received a $115,000 grant from Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. for a yearlong program to help 10 Wisconsin-based food and beverage companies expand their production and marketing.

Participants will receive a financial coach, mentoring from industry executives, $10,000 and a chance to pitch to potential investors. FaB Wisconsin plans to make it an annual program and eventually house it within the center, Jurewicz said.

Palermo, which has about 600 employees at its Menomonee Valley headquarters, could have used something like the center, and FaB Wisconsin’s mentoring help, when it was expanding 20 years ago, Fallucca said. The company was trying to get a bigger presence in supermarket chains, while also learning government food label regulations, he said.

“Everything we had to do, we just had to work through ourselves,” Fallucca said.

Plans for the center are still in the preliminary stages.

It would likely use 30,000 to 75,000 square feet within an existing building, with the location still undetermined, Jurewicz said.

And it could complement a nearby business park aimed at food and beverage makers.

The city’s proposed Menomonee Valley plan update envisions a 40-acre light industrial development, with buildings totaling about 700,000 square feet, for the food industry.

The business park’s parcels could include We Energies’ coal storage site, south of W. Canal St. and west of I-94, which becomes available when the utility’s power plant converts to natural gas by this fall, according to the proposed update.

Other possible sites are land just east of the power plant, as well as city-owned properties at 260 N. 12th St., and south of W. Mount Vernon Ave. and east of I-94. Also, the business park could use vacant land under the Marquette Interchange and I-94 for shared parking and storm water management.

The business park for food and beverage makers would be comparable to the new Reed Street Yards business park, which is aimed at water tech firms and is just west of the Global Water Center, and Century City Business Park, which is being developed at W. Capitol Drive and N. 27th St., near the Energy Innovation Center, Jurewicz said.

Reed Street Yards and Century City both got started with city cash, provided mainly through tax incremental financing districts.

New buildings in both business parks will generate property tax revenue to pay back city funding — the same formula used to create the Menomonee Valley Industrial Center, which is now full.

The Global Water Center and Energy Innovation Center were created with a combination of private and public funds, including grants from Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

MATC collaboration

FaB Wisconsin also is working with Milwaukee Area Technical College to open a pilot food processing plant and three shared product development, food analysis and microbiology testing labs.

Those facilities, totaling about 15,000 square feet, will be at the college’s Education Center at Walker Square, 816 W. National Ave. They will be part of the college’s Food Maker School and will open by fall 2016.

The labs will be available for start-ups and other small food and beverage businesses to do such things as test the sanitation of food making equipment, and analyze moisture content, chemical makeup and other aspects of food products, Jurewicz said.

Businesses also could contract with the pilot processing plant to produce and package food and beverage products, she said.

“That frees up the entrepreneur to do marketing,” Jurewicz said.

The college will use the processing plant and labs to help teach students in two new programs: a two-year associate degree in food science technology and a one-year degree in food and beverage manufacturing.

MATC started those programs last year after FaB Wisconsin’s members said there was a shortage of workers with skills in those areas, said Rich Busalacchi, associate dean of the college’s Hospitality and Food Manufacturing Programs.

Students with the one-year degree will find processing jobs at food and beverage manufacturers, he said, while the two-year degree provides opportunities for jobs in areas such as quality assurance.

The new facilities will focus on baked items; fermented items, including wine and beer; and other food items, such as sauces and soups, Busalacchi said.

The $1.5 million project to create the processing plant and labs is part of the college’s proposed 2015-’16 annual budget, which will have a June 16 public hearing and a June 23 board review.

The food and beverage industry, including nearby businesses within the Walkers’s Point neighborhood, provides a lot of job opportunities, Busalacchi said.

Wisconsin has over 1,600 food, beverage and ingredients manufacturers, and nearly two-thirds have fewer than 10 employees, according to FaB Wisconsin.

Many of those smaller operations, including some which are home-based, will remain side businesses, Jurewicz said.

“But there are some that would like to see themselves grow,” she said.

Tom Daykin, Journal Sentinel

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