When most people think of Michigan, cars immediately come to mind. But in the food industry, Michigan is about apples, potatoes, cherries, blueberries, dairy, water… and the list goes on. 

The world is hungry for Michigan food products, and West Michigan is uniquely positioned to deliver. Why West Michigan? The answer comes in four parts: 

1. Freshwater and wastewater capacity
2. Diverse agricultural supply chain
3. Process-driven manufacturing community
4. Food and ag research partnerships

FRESHWATER AND WASTEWATER CAPACITY

Water is the lifeblood of food processing and agriculture. Nearly every food product touched by consumers comes in contact with water during growing and processing. While plains and western states’ water reserves are depleting at an alarming rate, Michigan is surrounded by over 9,500 miles of freshwater resources. 

As West Michigan brews more beer, churns more ice cream, and bakes more goods, access to adequate wastewater capacity is more important than ever. Not only are West Michigan’s municipal wastewater systems investing in new technology to support increased demand, but several are partnering with leading food companies in the region to adopt state-of-the-art sustainable treatment and pretreatment practices.

DIVERSE AGRICULTURAL SUPPLY CHAIN

West Michigan’s agribusiness industry has fed the U.S. for over 150 years. And while today the state is better known for autos than asparagus, the region still produces some of the most diverse crops and food products in the nation. 

West Michigan is a major regional contributor to the state’s #2 national ranking in agricultural diversity:

• #1 in blueberries (100+ million pounds in 2016)
• #1 in tart cherries (75% of all tart cherries in the U.S. come from Michigan)
• #1 in pickling cucumbers (97 million pounds annually)
• #1 in dry beans (250,000 tons of edible beans in 2015)
• #1 in greenhouses/flowers ($405 million annually)
• #2 in apples (31 million bushels in 2016)
• #2 in asparagus (20 million pounds in 2016)
#6 in milk (11 billion pounds of milk in 2016)

MANUFACTURING KNOW-HOW

West Michigan is home to one of the nation’s largest and most diverse manufacturing sectors. If you can dream it, we can make it. Our region hosts industry leaders in metals, plastics, textiles, and a variety of advanced materials. From custom stainless steel fabrication to sanitary food handling and distribution systems, the manufacturing community has the know-how to feed West Michigan’s growing food processors.

FOOD AND AG RESEARCH

Michigan State University is home to one of the country’s leading agricultural and food science centers. MSU Extension works to increase farmers’ success, protecting the environment and ensuring food safety, while the university’s Food Science and Human Nutrition Department leads research to improve the quality, safety, nutritional value, and demand for meat, fruit, vegetable, dairy, and cereal products.

IN GOOD COMPANY

West Michigan is within 500 miles of half the U.S. and Canadian consumer markets. Thus, when combined with the region’s other assets, some of the largest food brands and contract food manufacturers in the country have chosen West Michigan as a strategic investment location. Some of West Michigan’s notable food brands include: Nestlé Gerber, Yoplait, Sara Lee, Kellogg’s, and Cargill.

SUPPORTING BUSINESS GROWTH

Core to the mission of The Right Place is to support industry growth and existing businesses here in our community. Over the past several years, we have launched a variety of services and resources specifically targeting West Michigan’s food processing and agribusiness sector. 

Over the past 12 months, The Right Place has engaged 42 food-related companies, providing 146 unique value-add assists to support business growth in West Michigan. In addition to company assistance, we have also started two major food-related initiatives, The Right Place Food Processors Council and Food Safety and Quality Training through the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center - West (MMTC-West).

FOOD PROCESSORS COUNCIL

The Right Place Food Processors Council is a 13-county group of leading food-related companies in West Michigan. The purpose of the council is to promote collaboration and shared learning among the members and greater food and agribusiness community. The council is comprised of progressive West Michigan food processors that meet on a regular basis to share best practices, provide facility tours, and solve problems as a group. Today, the council is engaged in several activities and initiatives, including the annual MiFood Summit, water and wastewater minimization programs, and best practice tours. For more information on the council, or to get involved, contact Rick Chapla at chaplar@rightplace.org.

FOOD SAFETY AND QUALITY EXPERTISE

In West Michigan, food processors turn to MMTC-West for assistance with food safety management systems (FSMS/ FSMA), process efficiency, and compliance. MMTC-West offers a variety of training to address food quality and safety. Whether your organization is beginning a program or working to incorporate food defense and product security into your existing food safety programs, MMTC-West’s courses will define policies and procedures found to be effective in minimizing the risks of intentional food contamination. For more information on MMTC-West food safety and quality services, contact René Booker at mmtcwest@rightplace.org.