RACHEL RODGERS H&R Staff Writer
DECATUR – Richland Community College and National Foodworks Services have partnered to foster future business development skills and entrepreneurship within the community.
In anticipation of the Brush College School being restructured as a food manufacturing hub just down the road from the college, Tony Caccomo, one of the partners in the project, and Richland President Gayle Saunders entered an agreement Wednesday to develop a community kitchen incubator to expand the concept of food processing, packaging and development for entrepreneurs in the Decatur area.
Plans for the building, which was purchased last month and is located at 575 N. Brush College Road, include the construction of a bakery, wet kitchen, an aggregation center for locally farmed and hydroponic products, and equipment for specialized packaging and distribution.
Caccomo said the facility aims to capture the concept of ‘thinking small to grow big:’ producing smaller quantities but filling the growing demand for locally manufactured, healthy food.
“The entire food industry is changing beneath our very feet:’ he said.
Richland’s role will be to add expertise from programs including the Culinary Arts Institute, horticulture, agribusiness and other business disciplines to the facility in a non-financial capacity.
The site is expected to become a portal for students and community members to progress their entrepreneurship skills, educational development and research opportunities, said Doug Brauer, vice president of economic development and innovative workforce solutions at the college.
“This will create another pathway to come through an accelerated opportunity and start new careers:’ he said: “People will have the portable skills to be self-sustaining and productive members of the Decatur community.”
Jim Milano, one of the partners in the project, said area’s location creates ample logistical access, with close proximity to rail, highway and intermodal transportation. Both he and Caccomo have about 30 years of experience in the real estate development and commercial food processing industries.
David McLaughlin, director of the agribusiness and horticulture program, said students will be able to start with a small idea, act on it, learn from their mistakes and expand it into something greater.
“This connection will give them a place to put an idea into reality:’ he said.
Construction work has already begun taking place to retrofit the building, and Caccomo said portions could be operational later this year. He said the facility will provide opportunities to train future business leaders and spur economic growth in the community.
“The educational component is becoming as important as the manufacturing. side:’ Caccomo said.