FaB Milwaukee executive director Shelley Jurewicz has been leading the organization's development, with the goal of making southeastern Wisconsin an attractive place for food and beverage manufacturers to locate and expand.
Advocates of the food and beverage industry are working to create an organization that will be as impactful as the water cluster that has formed around Milwaukee's Global Water Center.
FaB represents the cluster and has worked to advocate for education, mentorship and partnership among the food and beverage manufacturing industry. FaB, which reaches about 700 industry professionals, has been increasing its emphasis on education in the food and beverage space. With FaB's help, the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) recently developed three new courses in food manufacturing that it started offering this fall.
One-year technical diplomas are now available in food manufacturing industrial maintenance and food manufacturing and processing; and a two-year food science technology associate degree has been added. They are all aimed at preparing students for a lab role in a food organization, Jurewicz said.
The food and beverage manufacturers who were surveyed to create the coursework have committed to sending 250 of their employees through the program and hiring another 250 students who come out of the program by 2015.
FaB is also working with Milwaukee Public Schools, including Vincent High School, to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math careers through food.
She is working to put in place the infrastructure to build a pipeline of talent for food manufacturing companies to draw from.
"Food companies like to locate where other food companies are located," Jurewicz said. "The food companies here are just thrilled to know they're getting this kind of attention through Milwaukee 7."
FaB is the only organization of its kind in the country, as far as the M7 is aware, she said.
"Because we exist, we're a value add in ourselves," Jurewicz said. "If you're considering locating here, if you're able to plug and play pretty easily, it could tilt your decision one way or another."
Jurewicz said FaB plans to create a new program, called the FaBcelerator. It will be the first food accelerator in the nation.
FaB will select five pilot entrepreneurs from around the country for the 18-month lean startup program. Entrepreneurs will be screened to find those with high-growth, highly scalable food or beverage industry products or science and technology propositions.
The pilot program will award $20,000 in seed funding and provide industry mentorship to each participant. Following the first lean phase, each would receive an additional $50,000. Their growth efforts are required to create jobs in the Milwaukee region, Jurewicz said.
FaB will work to raise the funds for the project from the state, venture capital funds and food companies over the next few months.
"It's one of those things that could put us on the map in a whole new way," Jurewicz said.
Glorious Malone's Fine Sausage Inc. recently participated in a similar program, called Scalerator, through Scale Up Milwaukee.
Eleven Milwaukee area businesses were chosen to participate in the program, which is funded by American Express OPEN and based upon the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Model.
The project aims to develop an "entrepreneurship ecosystem" in Milwaukee through existing companies that have the potential to grow significantly.
Malone's, which is located at 300 W. Walnut St. in Milwaukee and has 10 employees, makes a spiced pork product called headcheese. President and owner Daphne Jones took over the family business in 2006.
The two-month Scalerator program was an opportunity to develop goals to increase her company's growth and envision the future of Malone's, she said.
"At the end of it, we had to present a plan just using the tools that we had received and taking into account the conversations that we have had and the information that the instructors had given us," Jones said. "My plan by the end of my first quarter is to have accomplished some marketing. And having accomplished the marketing, you increase your client base."
Eventually, she hopes to be able to hire additional staff and have a positive impact on the community.
Jones has also taken advantage of the resources offered by FaB Milwaukee, and serves on the advisory council.
"I think (FaB is) another great opportunity to connect the manufacturing world," she said. "We were once that manufacturing city and I think that people began to think that it wasn't as important, especially as manufacturers moved away. But we are rich with that kind of enterprise here and we have people that if we can get them to get more skills, we have people to be able to offer to the manufacturers who come here."