ALTON – In a time when Americans are reexamining trends, habits, and the way they look at sustainability and success, Ann Bromaghim of the Alton Area Business Development Association says the moment is ripe to do some serious restructuring.
“Consumers say locally grown foods are not accessible and affordable, and local growers say there is no market for specialty crops,” Bromaghim said. “Our purpose is somewhat like a brokering agent, bringing those two parties together.”
That purpose, as part of a food hub, is but one tentacle in the multi-faceted mission statement of the AABDA.
On May 13, the North Alton/Godfrey Business Council will host a luncheon benefitting the AABDA at the Alton VFW Post 1308, giving many people their first glimpse at the organization and its plans for the Greater Alton area.
“This event celebrates nearly two years of research and planning,” Bromaghim said.
The special buffet menu was planned and coordinated by Great Rivers Market Fresh Network Partners Jim Newton of Mississippi Half Step in Grafton, Ryan Gentelin of Gentelin’s Restaurant in Alton, and Michael Dewes, director of nutrition at Senior Services, with help from Jeff Venardos, director of catering at Lewis and Clark Community College.
“This kickoff luncheon is an opportunity to actively participate in an exciting new approach to our community’s growth,” AABDA board member Ron Tanner said. “This event is an ideal way for everyone to support local business. With that support, we will sustain the business investments that are made each day in this community. We like what’s possible and know what needs to be done, but we need a lot of help to get there.”
So what exactly are the AABDA and the Great Rivers Market Fresh Network? An easy way to break it down is to think of a triangle, with three distinct corners designed to support the other two. First is the aforementioned “food hub,” connecting producers of fresh, locally grown food products to local wholesale buyers such as restaurants, education and community service institutions and grocers.
“There is a trend of people wanting to eat at restaurants that offer locally grown ingredients,” Bromaghim said.
The hub, in turn, complements a “business incubator,” which will support both start-up and existing companies with a network of business tools, back office support, space for lease, expert advisers, and business plans to meet performance milestones.
This leg will focus on food service, the arts, hospitality and tourism.
“The incubator provides physical assistance through both location and mentorship to start up businesses or existing businesses that want to expand, and provide them with everything they need to become a standalone operation and a success story,” Bromaghim said. “The people in the background are working in or retired from the legal field, accounting, and marketing. They are establishing a relationship that secures networking later on.”
The third corner of the triangle consists of commercial kitchen retail space, meant to generate revenue to run the incubator and serve as a complimentary source of income for kitchen owners, all of which are non-profit community service or charitable organizations.
While long-term goals for the AABDA include attaining its own facilities with offices, a community kitchen to use for training, and other retail space, the short-term goal to partner with and work alongside underutilized kitchens already is in motion.
Bromaghim, with an extensive background in education and computer technology, says the organization has been in the birthing stage for quite some time.
“This came about from a casual conversation between me and Karen Gunter around the time that Olin was talking of moving south and so many employees were going to be displaced,” she said. “We started thinking about trying to implement some kind of training program for people, and we decided to form a kind of back office services business, and that got Ron Tanner involved.”
The first meeting was held in March 2012, and the small group went to St. Louis to see an incubator project in action. In November 2012, it became a corporation.
“Once we had a focus, we started looking into grants and so forth,” Bromaghim said. “There are a lot of successful small businesses in the area, but like any other city in America, the big box stores are threatening to push them out. Then there are many people with good ideas or who are already creating good products but not strong with marketing or business knowledge. Those are the people we want to walk beside and assist.
“A lot of our problem is that we have spent time grieving on our losses, such as industry and manufacturing. Now is the time to come out of the denial stage and move forward. This area is rich in agriculture and the arts and we undervalue the talent we have here. Plus, we are sitting on a gold mine of rich history and culture.”
The May 13 luncheon is open to the public, and the volunteer-run AABDA is welcoming community support, volunteers and other assistance. The fund-raiser buffet begins at 11 a.m., and is $15 per person.
Reservations can be made at email@example.com.
“Statistics show many small businesses go out of business within five years,” Bromaghim said. “With incubators, those stats are reversed, and they have an 85 percent chance of being a success.”
To learn more on how to get involved, call (618) 551-5020.