Potsdam considering "food incubator" for local businesses

Feb 28, 2011

All across the Thruway there are businesses devoted to helping businesses get started.

Syracuse has its "Tech Garden" business incubator, Rochester is home to High Tech Rochester, and Buffalo has UB's technology incubator. Each offering gives entrepreneurs  coaching and office space, in the hopes of nurturing a profitable venture that spurs job creation and economic growth.

So not to be outdone, officials in Potsdam, up in the North Country, are considering a "food incubator."

In a conversation with North Country Public Radio (NCPR), village economic development director Jim Murphy says there's been a bump in folks seeking economic development microloans to bring small food product businesses to life. Murphy tells NCPR: 

Anything from home wineries, to barbeque sauce, to bakery-type goods, invariably these ideas fail because they lack a commercial kitchen of facility that would allow them to make their product, or develop their product.

Murphy tells NCPR's David Sommerstein that he envisions building a resource for local farmers and artisanal food producers, to take their wares from stalls at a farmer's market to the Internet.

Incubator interest growing

According to Bloomberg Businessweek,  in 2007 there were roughly 150 food incubators. That's up significantly from the 20 incubators in 2001.  

So why the rise in incubator interest? Well for one, it's really expensive to run a commercial kitchen. That's what Dinah Adkins, president of the National Business Incubation Association told BW:

Utility bills for kitchens are much higher than for standard office space. And even though food businesses do create jobs, the high risk and small scale of most food startups make them unattractive to investors, she says.

Potsdam's Jim Murphy says the proposal they're mulling over in the North Country wouldn't be as industrial as other food incubators, so he would expect the operating cost would be lower than bigger incubators.

"What we're looking at is something much smaller, and maybe even on a community based scale, that would be more an artisanal baking, or artisanal level cheese, or things on a smaller scale that are marketed as specialty products."

The idea is just in an exploratory phase right now - last week there were a community meeting to talk about the idea, and a small group of people showed up.

But Fred Hanss, director of Potsdam's Office of Planning and Development, says the city is moving forward with the concept. Hanss says the incubator will likely take the form of a private cooperative or nonprofit, and not be part of the village or county government. Another community meeting is set to take place soon.