Cooking up new businesses

One of the biggest hurdles facing new businesses is the investment often required just to get off the ground. That is especially true for entrepreneurs whose businesses are food-related. Health regulations for restaurants and food companies serve an important purpose, but they also increase the investment needed to start a business. So I was thrilled Monday when Marion County Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman spoke with the County Commission about starting a certified commercial kitchen using grants, and making that kitchen available for new food businesses to rent.

In the approximately 4.5 years I’ve been in Marion County, I’ve had the pleasure of featuring several excellent cooks, bakers, and jelly-makers. All of them make products that match or exceed the quality of most mass-marketed equivalents, and I think there would be a strong market for such artisanal wares from local kitchens. And I’m sure there are dozens of others whose products would be just as popular.

It’s easy to dismiss a small-town food company as a pipe dream. But don’t tell that to Marilyn Hanshaw and Connie Allen in my hometown of Washington, Kan. They created MarCon Pies more than 25 years ago, and the business has grown to sell about 2,000 pies per week, or 7,000 per week around the holidays. I’ve even seen MarCon pies at Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion. MarCon Pies is one of two reasons most people know of Washington (the other is Kansas Specialty Dog Service, where service dogs are trained), and it all started with two people baking pies.

I’m not certain it would be best to convert one of the kitchens in the county lake hall for this purpose — it would be best if the facility didn’t step on the toes of other needs. Likewise, I doubt a halftime employee would be necessary to manage and promote such a kitchen. But Huffman has the right idea. Business recruitment — bringing in businesses from elsewhere — is a tall order. Reducing the barriers to local entrepreneurs following their dreams is a much better strategy. There might be a lot of strikeouts, but a single home run would be well worth it.

— ADAM STEWART

 

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