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Bless your heart to the people who jump to conclusions before knowing the background of things. And would rather bash...

Plans for Food Commercialization Center move forward

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By Amber Revels-Stocks
The Times-Leader

Friday, October 12, 2018

AYDEN — Plans for the Eastern North Carolina Food Commercialization Center are moving along, according to an official.

Project manager Keith Purvis presented the Ayden Board of Commissioners with a status update about the center at a meeting on Monday.

“Our goal is to launch a 24,000 square-foot food commercialization center in Pitt County to facilitate the growth of the food processing industry in eastern North Carolina,” Purvis said.

The Eastern North Carolina Food Commercialization Center wants to provide essential food processing services for farmers, food manufacturers and entrepreneurs in eastern North Carolina, according to Purvis.

“We want to serve as an incubator,” he said. “We want to focus on items that are not traditionally grown in eastern North Carolina.”

For example, sweet potatoes are a traditional crop in eastern North Carolina, so the group would not help someone start farming them. There is enough infrastructure to help, according to Purvis.

“We want to give them outlets to other crops, like collards,” Purvis said.

The group also wants to provide value-added services, such as marketing help, flash freezing and fresh-cut produce packaging.

The center’s board estimates the center in Ayden will cost about $6.3 million to construct, equip and operate over the first three years.

Construction of a 24,000 square foot building is estimated at $2.8 million — up to 80 percent of which can come from U.S. Economic Development Association grants.

“It might not be 80 percent funding, but the only other time someone in eastern North Carolina was eligible for 80 percent funding, they received it,” Purvis said. “The EDA must have a 50 percent match committed — that’s not in hand — before they’ll look at the application.”

Food processing equipment is estimated at $2.3 million, which can come from Golden LEAF grants.

“EDA likes to fund new construction, but they don’t like to fund equipment; Golden LEAF likes to fund equipment, but they don’t like to fund construction,” Purvis said. “We’re trying to match what groups prefer with our requests for funding.”

The group also estimates it will need $1 million for working capital.

Purvis will be meeting with members of the state budget committee in January in hopes of gaining funds for the project. Ayden had provided cash and in-kind support for the center.

The business model is a blended organizational approach, which should enable the center to be self-sustaining behind the first three years, according to Purvis.

The total economic impact of the center is estimated to be $920 million over an eight-year period, he said. The facility is also expected to hire 25-30 employees.

“Other jobs will be ancillary. Farmers, distributors, the people helped by the center will be hiring too,” Purvis said.

The center has a vision of advancing innovative solutions that foster collaboration, improve regional economy and promote well being for all North Carolinians, he said.

“We want to be on the front edge of feeding the world,” Purvis said.

The center has partnered with N.C. State University, the N.C. Department of Agriculture, East Carolina University’s College of Business and Pitt Community College.

“Commissioner Steve Troxler (of the N.C. Department of Agriculture) has been very supportive,” Purvis said. “Unfortunately, farmers have had only one good year out of the last four.”

East Carolina University’s College of Business is helping the center refine its business plan, he said.

Purvis and the center’s board are trying to raise awareness of the center. He is also trying to determine demand and needs while securing funding commitments.

Pitt County gave the group a 6-acre plot off Elliot Drive, Purvis said. The group is also looking at the possibility of purchasing an old pickle plant, but that decision will be made later once all funding is secured.

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