Food production incubator considered for Petaluma

[caption id="attachment_47879" align="alignright" width="403" caption="One site being considered for a possible food-production business incubator is Buckelew Programs' new 11,000-square-foot People's Harvest facility set to open this spring in Petaluma."][/caption]

PETALUMA -- Creators of artisan food products who are challenged to find a place to take their businesses to a new level may be able to find such help in a food manufacturing incubator being considered in southern Sonoma County.

Exploring the potential for such an incubator are the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Committee; Ingrid Alverde, the city of Petaluma's new economic development manager; and Anni Minuzzo, a Lake County resident and consultant to several Small Business Development Centers in Northern California, including ones based in Santa Rosa and Napa.One space that's being considered for the incubator is Buckelew Programs' new 11,000-square-foot People's Harvest facility at 1297 Dynamic Way in Petaluma. The goal is to help 75 to 100 adults with disabilities get back to work by providing jobs related to prepping produce from local farmers for use in cafeterias in schools and other institutions.

"If it can work and it can fit into the space we have, we would certainly welcome the opportunity to create additional employment," said Steve Ramsland, executive director of Buckelew.

Interior improvements are set to start in February in time for the beginning of operations in April. The work will include a commercial kitchen, cold storage and space for food production to fit with existing plans Buckelew has for People's Harvest, according to Mr. Ramsland.

Ms. Minuzzo and People's Harvest consultant Maria Bianco are studying the feasibility of and demand for such a food production incubator.

"The need for this type of facility is rather enormous," said Ms. Minuzzo, a Lake County resident and consultant to several Small Business Development Centers in Northern California. She teaches a dozen workshops a year for startup food businesses, cluing them in on many things they may not be aware of. 

Because commercial food production equipment is so expensive and approval for facilities from local health officials is involved, a number of startups lease space inside an existing bakery, restaurant or catering kitchen, she said. One of the few such facilities is Jody Anselmo's Shared Spoon, which opened in December 2010 in Suisun City and San Francisco's La Cocina, the latter of which boosters of the Petaluma incubator visited recently.

However, a key problem is that many don't allow tenants to store raw materials such as flour and sauces and finished products, hampering efficiency and the size to which a business can grow, Ms. Minuzzo said.

The target business for such an incubator would be one that's been operating for two to five years and it's ready to transition to outsourced production, and perhaps administrative functions, so the proprietors can focus on sales and marketing.

"We believe there are hundreds of food manufacturers of a certain size in the North Bay that need a place to manufacture their products," said Anthy O'Brien, president of Top Speed Data and head of the chamber's Economic Development Committee.

For inquiries on the incubator project, call Ms. Bianco at 707-338-7907.

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