The Dairy Business Innovation Center in Wisconsin is shutting down at the end of September because it lost federal funding and leaders couldn't find enough money elsewhere to keep it going. The center, which started with a $1 million federal earmark secured by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), for the past eight years has contracted with consultants to give dairy plants free or low-cost technical assistance with everything from business plans to equipment purchases.
The virtual center – it doesn't have a headquarters – received administrative support from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, but no state funding.
"Ten years ago, Wisconsin's dairy industry was not a pretty picture," founder and chairman Dan Carter said in a written summary of the center's contributions.
"We were losing dairy farms, cow numbers were decreasing and dairy plants were operating at 70 percent of capacity. We had little modernization or reinvestment, and California was eating our lunch with newer, larger and more efficient facilities."
In addition to helping dairy plants with business plans and equipment or facility issues, the center also assisted them with product development, packaging and label development and marketplace penetration, working in tandem with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
"About 80 percent of the services we provided aren't available elsewhere," said center spokeswoman Jeanne Carpenter.
There was talk of a dairy industry fundraiser to keep the center afloat, but Carpenter said the board of directors didn't want to compete with a fund drive by the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research to raise half the cost of a $32 million renovation of Babcock Hall on the UW – Madison campus, which will give the research center larger new facilities adjacent to Babcock Hall.
Since its launch, the Dairy Business Innovation Center and its team of 20 consultants have assisted more than 200 dairy entrepreneurs, coordinated more than 120 projects to increase market share for Wisconsin dairy products and assisted with seven plant relocations, according to Carter, the founder.
The center contributed to 43 new dairy processing plants opening in Wisconsin and another 92 expanding operations in the past seven years.
Half the initial $1 million earmark to the center in 2004 went into Grow Wisconsin Dairy Team grants – $10,000 to $20,000 grants to dairy farms and processors who had "shovel-ready" ideas to expand or try something new, Carpenter said.
Many of the plants that benefited from the center's expertise said in surveys that they may not have moved forward with their projects had the center's consultants not been available. Or, they predicted they wouldn't have been as successful without the center's help, Carpenter said.
In addition to federal funds, the center received in-kind contributions from Wisconsin agencies and organizations within the dairy sector.
Federal funding dried up two years ago.
"We've been running on fumes for the last two years, stretching money, cutting back on services and consultants have donated time," Carpenter said. PD
—From the Journal Sentinel (Click here to read the full article.)