Seeds for Change: Growing Local Prosperity

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Washtenaw County Board of County Commissioners gets help from local leaders to pursue employment and economic development through a new commercial kitchen incubator and job training project. We are seeking input from residents interested in starting food-related businesses.


Employer Survey

We are exploring a workforce development program that will provide training for unemployed workers and place them in jobs in the agribusiness and food services. To help us identify needs and opportunities for trained workers, we ask that you take a few minutes to respond to this CONFIDENTIAL survey. You will also be able to receive information as we move forward with this project by supplying your contact information. Take the Employer Survey!

Tenant Survey

A survey has been developed to identify regional demand for a commercial kitchen incubator facility and services. Help us respond to the community's needs and tell us what you think -- Take the Tenant Survey!    ¡Tome la encuesta!











Project Outcomes  

  • Provide meaningful jobs for chronically unemployed workers in the growing agribusiness and food service sector, with opportunities to advance into other full-time employment opportunities.
  • Improve health and nutrition for local low-income residents through the production of and access to local food.
  • Improve the economic climate in the county by fostering agri-business economic development.


Project Background

A new approach is needed to engage longtime impoverished residents who have not been successful in traditional workforce development and human service efforts to transition them out of poverty and into full employment. The Governor is looking for innovative strategies to address the income/employment needs of this population and Michigan Economic Development Corporation has offered to pilot a project in Washtenaw County.

 Poverty and unemployment are on the rise in Washtenaw County and throughout the state. The state legislature’s recent action to limit cash assistance will create even more need in the community.

Other important goals include: enriching local sustainability efforts, including the burgeoning small-scale agribusiness industry in and around Ypsilanti and throughout Washtenaw County; and improving health and nutrition outcomes for local low-income residents.


Leadership Task Force

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, Alicia Ping

Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Jim Durian, MEDC Talent Enhancement

Washtenaw County Workforce Development Board, Cindy Harrison WDB Chair

Food Gatherers, Eileen Spring, President/CEO

Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, Paul Saginaw

Food System Economic Partnership, Rodger Bowser 

Ann Arbor SPARK, Lori Emerson, Incubator Manager  

City of Ypsilanti, Paul Schreiber, Mayor

Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce, Andy LaBarre, VP of Government Relations

Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Neel Hajra, Chief Operating Officer

United Way of Washtenaw County , Debbie Jackson, Director of Community Investment

Washtenaw Community College, Rose Bellanca, President 

Eastern Michigan University , David Mielke, Dean Business School,

Eastern Michigan University, Larry Gates, Director of Dining Services

University of Michigan representative, TBD

Private sector representative (2), TBD

At-large representative (2),TBD


Technical Committee

Amanda Edmonds, Growing Hope

Charlie Penner, Small Business & Technology Development Center

Eileen Spring, Good Gatherers

Frank Gublo, Michigan State University

Jennifer Fike, Food System Economic Partnership

Jim Durian, Michigan Economic Development Corporation

Mary Jo Callan, Washtenaw County

Michelle Mueller, Washtenaw Community College

Rana Al-Igoe, Washtenaw County

Sandra Cochran, Small Business & Technology Development Center

Sharon Sheldon, Washtenaw County

Susan Sweet Scott, Washtenaw County

Teresa Gillotti, Washtenaw County

Tyne Lucas, Washtenaw County

Tony VanDerworp, Washtenaw County


Project Components

Potential Activities

Shared commercial kitchen space/ incubator and potentially acreage for food production.

  • Free or low-cost space providing a low-risk opportunity to expand production and take products to market.
  • Potentially food production depending on the preferred site.


Business support for local agri-business entrepreneurs.

  • Free or low-cost workers, significant workforce development subsidies that come with training or hiring program participants.
  • A trained and supported pool of potential employees, available through a “first source” referral process.
  • Ongoing support from project staff, to troubleshoot challenges that arise with employees placed.
  • Business services:
    • Advice on product development, food safety regulations, product packaging and marketing.
    • Pairing with an entrepreneur to assist in planning and launching a related business venture.
    • Preferred vendor status.
    • Recognition in marketing materials as a community-minded corporate citizen. 


Job training and placement to low income youth and chronically unemployed workers.

  • Food system “pipeline” occupation training program (may include certificate and coalition of training providers).
  • Training and job placement programs for low income youth and chronically unemployed (through networks, direct employer contacts, mass communications and other means).
  • Case management and volunteer job navigators to help employees stay retain employment and transition out of poverty.


Supportive services to trainees to increase job retention.

  • Provide on-site childcare and transportation to work.
  • On-site case management and related support.


Promote agri-business economic development.

  • Encourage local governments, universities, hospitals, and other partners to purchase local food products.
  • Community-wide employer engagement initiative focusing on food-related businesses.


Promote health and nutrition

  • Healthy food accessibility to meet the nutritional needs of low-income residents through a variety of means (e.g.,  products available for purchase with food stamps, the location of the facility/food in close geographic proximity to lower income neighborhoods, increased distribution of free and low-cost food at food pantries, small scale distributors etc.).


Check out our recent powerpoint presentation HERE


Media Links

Concentrate Article


For more information, contact:

Mary Jo Callan
Director of Community & Economic Development  


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