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January 09, 2009

Board of Supervisors consider supporting a local food hub using untapped funds

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Photo by Ron Dressel

In December of 2006, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors established an Economic Opportunity Fund and allocated $250,000 as an initial investment. The purpose of the fund, which had been initiated by Supervisor Ken Boyd (Rivanna), was for workforce development and the promotion of economic vitality.  However, two years later, no amount of the initial allocation has been disbursed. The Board revisited the fund at their January 7, 2009 meeting, in order to specify the criteria they would use to evaluate potential applications. They also considered one specific request from Kate Collier, with C&G Products, for $80,000 toward the creation of a proposed local food distribution hub in the Ivy Business Park.

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Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20090107-EconOppPodcast 

County staff drafted a four-point criteria to evaluate applications, and the Board agreed to each of the points.

1. Workforce development - Does the project provide job training or recruitment?
2. Matching Funds – Are there other sources of funding for the project?
3. Capital Investment – Does the project make a long-term investment in the area?
4. County Goals and Objectives – Does the project mesh with the county’s Comprehensive Plan or Strategic Plan?

The Board also included a fifth criteria suggested by Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett).

5. Tangible Benefits to Community – What return will the community receive on its investment?

The Board agreed that certain other points are inconsequential. A potential project could be from a for-profit business, non-profit organization, or some combination of the two. It would not have to be narrowly focused on job-training, but could be used for other necessary expenses. It could be located rurally or within the designated growth area.

Members of the Board discussed how the potential benefits to the community could be quantified for the purposes of granting funds. Boyd emphasized the need to see a clear fiscal return to the County in the form of increased tax revenues. If this is successful, the fund could be replenished and applied toward investment in future economic opportunities. Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) agreed with this general statement, but was skeptical about using public funds to entice potential employers into the area.  Other Supervisors generally agreed that an investment in work-force development was more effective than increasing employment through business recruitment.

Collier 
Collier addresses the Board of Supervisors

After agreeing to the standards, the Board immediately had a chance to exercise the review process by evaluating a specific request submitted in November 2008. Kate Collier addressed the Board with her proposal for a local food distribution and processing hub, citing the lack of a food distribution infrastructure as the main impediment for a thriving local food economy.  Collier, an active proponent for local foods in the area, also owns Feast market on West Main Street. The purpose of this new non-profit venture is to connect small local farmers with larger buyers who are accustomed to efficient distribution systems. The proposed location of the hub is the Dettor Edwards warehouse in the Ivy Business Park.

While the Board was generally receptive and enthusiastic about the general idea, a few reservations were expressed. Supervisor Ann Mallek (White Hall) wished to see more coordination between non-profits working toward the same goal of a local food economy.  “I hope that all these various parallel tracks will come back together,” said Mallek.  In fact, earlier in the meeting the Board heard another proposal for a “virtual marketplace” for local foods from Neil Taylor.

Boyd favored the idea, but said it did not fit his understanding of the Economic Opportunity Fund. Rooker pointed out that there is more risk involved with a start-up than a project from an established entity. Finally, Thomas, as representative for the Ivy area, had more localized concerns. She wanted to make sure residents of Ivy were supportive of this new use of a warehouse in their neighborhood.

Noting these process obstacles, Supervisor David Slutzky (Rio) recognized that there may be time constraints with any project involving farming. He suggested that the Collier work on improving the business plan and return to the Board in early February. Collier said that she was proactively involving the neighbors, had already secured funding from foundations and private individuals, and had solicited help from professors in the Sustainability program at Darden Business School.  The Board and applicant ended the meeting with hopes that these obstacles could be worked out.

County staff anticipate the submission of two more requests in the next month. The Board is hoping that these clarified guidelines will help potential applicants to determine whether the fund is appropriate for their own projects.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST

0:15 – Susan Stimart introduces discussion of fund
2:20 – Different between Underemployment and unemployment
5:30 – Ken Boyd wants more emphasis on attracting jobs
6:20 – Legal constraints to the fund
7:15 – Discussion over a metric for financial return to the county
11:00 – David Slutsky considers economic benefits of local food production
12:30 – Dennis Rooker suggests adding criteria for tangible benefit to community
14:50 - Should use of the funds be limited to only certain types of expenditures?
15:20 – For-profit or non-profit?
15:40 – Rural or urban location of project?
15:50 – Conditions for receiving the fund?
18:05 – Quantifying benefits from a business standpoint
22:45 – A role for Economic Development Authority?
24:20 – Require other sources of funding for projects?
26:50 – Examples from other jurisdictions
29:00 – The possibility of a loan fund
31:00 – Is this a grant program or an investment in economic opportunities?
33:00 – Board wants to see more collaboration between local food projects
33:40 – Kate Collier presents local food hub initiative
38:40 – Ken Boyd points out the existence of other non-profits
39:20 – Other sources of support for local food hub
42:40 – Board questions when the funds would be needed
44:50 – Sally Thomas brings up potential impacts to Ivy neighborhood
47:00 – Rooker considers the risks involved in start-up organizations
50:50 – Kathy Welston expresses interest in workforce development
55:40 – One-time investment, not ongoing subsidy 

Daniel Nairn

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