In all my years in economic development, I’d be hard-pressed to recall a project that generated as much national buzz and media coverage as the recent opening of Whole Foods in Detroit did. And, rightly so — this is gigantic news.
There are basically two approaches to doing economic development: attraction and gardening. Attraction strategies focus on targeted industries and high-priority markets while gardening involves services and tools to help grow existing state businesses and entrepreneurs.
MEDC aggressively executes both attraction and gardening strategies to grow our economy and create more and better jobs.
As Whole Foods demonstrates, the two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive.
From a business attraction standpoint, Whole Foods represents a huge win for Detroit and points to our ability to draw national and global firms to the state. The Austin, Texas-based grocery chain is instantly recognizable as the innovation leader in its industry and doesn’t choose the markets it invests in without the careful deliberation and due diligence. Its presence puts the city in a select group of locations across the country that can attract a company of this stature.
To help secure the new Whole Foods store, the state awarded a $1 million Community Revitalization Program (CRP) performance-based grant to Ellington WF, LLC, the developer of the Whole Foods site in Midtown, to offset costs for site preparation and construction of the new store. The state investment secured the project’s overall $14.9 million capital investment and 80 new jobs in the city.
We have made great strides in these past two years of reinventing Michigan under Governor Rick Snyder’s wide-ranging business climate improvements to attract national and global firms like Whole Foods to the state. Business taxes are the lowest in decades. We’re cutting red tape and getting rid of burdensome regulations. We’ve revamped our economic development toolkit to provide businesses with critical support that most certainly factors into their site location decisions.
If you read between the headlines, however, you will see the Whole Foods story is about more than a prominent business locating in Detroit. We have worked equally hard on the gardening side to grow Michigan-based businesses and entrepreneurs by increasing access to capital, support services, commercialization programs, and tools to help make high-impact connections with suppliers and customers.
The Whole Foods story is as much about complementing MEDC gardening efforts to support those entrepreneurs and small businesses in the growing urban agriculture movement.
One initiative, the MEDC Commercial Kitchen Program, is enabling Whole Foods to tap the talents of local food entrepreneur Ruth Bell. Shoppers there now find Mrs. Bell’s mouth-watering monkey bread regularly available for purchase. It was the commercial kitchen program that enabled Mrs. Bell to get her Chugga Bakery off to a strong running start.
Mrs. Bell’s is only the first such success story. We have partnered with Eastern Market through a $1 million CRP grant in a major renovation of the beloved Detroit landmark to provide commercial grade production capabilities for a broadened number of food business entrepreneurs. The completed project will serve as a regional hub for local food production, processing, distribution and retailing.
MEDC is also backing Charter One’s Growing Communities with $50,000 in a collaborative effort to promote food entrepreneurship. The Local Food System Micro Grant Program will provide funds on a competitive basis to district merchants, vendors and farmers at Eastern Market.
In addition, we have recently launched two similar programs. The Farmers Market Grant Program provides one-time grants between $10,000 and $50,000 to existing farmers markets that have been in operation for at least four years in Michigan. Projects for consideration include unique and innovative design elements, amenities for patrons and vendors, multi-use spaces, multi-modal transportation, marketing and signage.
To expand the mobile cuisine (food truck) industry in Michigan, the Mobile Cuisine Startup Program provides one-time grants of up to $10,000 to new and existing food truck businesses. Applicants must demonstrate easily accessible and unique food options to patrons in public spaces and contribute to the local economy by working with other local businesses and farms.
Whole Foods and its relationship with our growing base of food-related businesses is only one example of how attraction and gardening are symbiotic. We are seeing this connectivity flourish across diverse industries like automotive, manufacturing, energy, biosciences, IT and chemical. Attraction and gardening is a one-two combination that has given Michigan momentum needed to earn the title of America’s Comeback State.