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Business heats up for small food processors

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Articles - December 2011
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
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Business heats up for small food processors
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Small food processor Organic Fresh Fingers employs 13 workers at its plant in Salem.
// Photo by Travis Henry


Wildwood brought two potential tenants for the building to the negotiating table: Organic Fresh Fingers and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, small food processors in growth modes. Together, the parties devised the loan program. The city loaned each about $275,000 from the new fund to make improvements to the building that would enhance its sustainability and energy efficiency. Wildwood also offered its fledgling tenants certain incentives to locate there, including a sliding-scale lease deal under which they pay below-market rates now but will pay more as they grow.

Because food processing is so energy-intensive, utility bills comprise a huge chunk of the cost of production. The start-up principals put their heads together with Henry and Miller and came up with a list of energy-saving improvements, including solar heating units, highly efficient heat pumps, energy-efficient lighting, and so on. These improvements resulted in a 23% reduction in energy use compared to a traditionally built facility.

The tenants arrived in September and already they are realizing huge reductions in utility costs, says Organic Fresh Fingers’ president Evann Remington. “I’m shocked at how much it’s saving us,” she says. (A third food-processing tenant that has one employee, Myriad Cake Design, subleases from Organic Fresh Fingers.)

Here’s the kicker: The tenants can have up to 70% of the loans converted to a grant if they meet certain hiring benchmarks. Already, Organic Fresh Fingers, which sells organic lunch items to schools and kids’ organizations, has hired eight more employees since it moved in, bringing its total to 13. Ciderworks, which employed just two prior to the move, now has six employees and plans to hire three more after the first of the year.

Both Organic Fresh Fingers and Ciderworks can already see the time coming when they’ll outgrow their current space. That’s good, Henry says, because the incubator strategy envisions the current tenants succeeding, expanding, and moving from incubation space to new space on the same property.
“We hope our next building on the site is being incubated in this building,” Henry says. And next time, instead of retrofitting an existing structure, Wildwood can build in sustainability from the ground up, and save its tenants even more money.


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