Grant funds boost agri-business

By Eric Banford

Ithaca Beer will receive funding to help with their space expansion and the addition of a bottling line.
Ithaca Beer will receive funding to help with their space expansion and the addition of a bottling line.

Recipients of funding under New York State’s Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) were announced at the end of 2015, and the Southern Tier Region came up big winners. Some $500 million is coming to Tompkins and seven adjacent counties over the next five years; the Finger Lakes and Central New York regions also received $500 million.
“In the first year, $30 million has already been allocated to specific projects on a region-wide basis,” says Michael Stamm, President of Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD) and a member of the Southern Tier Regional Council (STRC) and its Executive Committee. “I think Tompkins County faired pretty well,” adds Heather McDaniel, Vice President of TCAD and Director of Economic Development Services.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen a pretty serious uptick in specialty food manufacturers,” Stamm says. “Cornell University is an eminent player in research and development related to agriculture and food system products, so I think we’re well positioned to work with entrepreneurs that are starting companies or companies that have expansion potential to take advantage of this funding.”
For our region to compete to get URI funding, a strategic plan was required, which was a big part of being chosen for $500 million to be spent over the next five years, says Stamm. “Our plan identified four focus areas: agriculture and agri-business, advanced manufacturing, the Binghamton entrepreneurial system and economy, and then a catch-all for things that encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses here.”
The beer brewing industry is already booming in the Finger Lakes, with more than 75 breweries located along the Finger Lakes Beer Trail. Two of those breweries will be able to boost production and add jobs with  the grant funding they will receive.
“Of the projects rewarded, Hopshire Farm and Brewery is going to do a small additional building so they can do more events and free up their brew house to brew more beer,” McDaniel says. “Ithaca Beer also received money, and they are in the middle of a 23,000-square-foot expansion and the addition of a canning line.”
Ithaca Beer will receive $175,000 for the canning line that will ultimately cost around $1 million and is expected to create five new jobs. Hopshire will receive $50,000 for their expansion project, which will make room for more brewing tanks and will double production. The whole project will cost around $300,000 and create two new jobs.
TCAD has been involved for many years with many of the companies receiving funding. Stamm notes that, “Ithaca Beer is a good example of a company receiving URI funding that we have assisted since they were founded in 1998 with low interest loans and local incentives. So many of these projects that might be competitive for URI funding we’ll be working with. URI funding might solve their needs, or a combination of URI and other incentive that we might deliver.”
Another local project is Cornell’s proposed Plant Science Innovation and Business Development Center, which is in line to receive about $20 million from this award. The center will advance plant science research, enhance controlled-environment agriculture, and examine renewable energy, with up to $4.5 million for an Earth Source Heat Project.
Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming would receive $110,000 to establish a training farm program at its farm business incubator in the Town of Ithaca. According to Joanna Green, former Director of Groundswell, the goals of the project are to “increase capacity to provide job training and entrepreneurial experience for hard to place workers, increase the pool of trained agricultural workers for the Southern Tier’s organic and sustainability oriented farms, and to expand the geographic reach of Groundswell’s farmer training and business incubation services across Southern Tier region.
“This vision will take longer to implement and more funding than the URI provides,” continues Green. “But the URI funding will allow us to start developing the project. We’re particularly interested in developing a program to help people coming out of prisons who are interested in developing their own farm business or in getting employed in agriculture. Since usually they have no resources, we’re hoping to provide a stipend so they get paid while learning to farm.”
Groundswell currently has a group of mentor farmers who lead classes, give advice, and help beginning farmers troubleshoot problems. “Participants gain work experience and farming skills, and they get acquainted with a network of support. We want to work with other organizations like the Multicultural Resource Center and the reentry program they are starting. We’re hoping to provide a warm, welcoming environment,” Green says.
Stamm encourages business or individuals interested in URI funding to visit the STRC website for more information. “If they think they have a project that fits the strategic plan they can contact us and we can advise them from there.”
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