Value-added ag products may offer opportunities

The Community Council explored businesses that use agricultural resources.

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WALLA WALLA -- Walla Walla is ripe for new businesses with a focus on value-added agriculture, the results of a more than six-month study revealed Wednesday.

The area is abundant with opportunities for entrepreneurs with a passion for homegrown products and a sound business plan, according to a report from the Community Council.

The Community Council, a nonpartisan group led by residents from Burbank to Dayton and everywhere in between, spent 27 weeks exploring how the region's economic viability could be enhanced through the creation of businesses that use agricultural resources. Then participants came up with 10 recommendations to help move the process along.

Over the next two years, the council will use its findings to work with agencies that can foster value-added businesses, promote awareness of the region's historic crops and help encourage and recruit people and businesses to the area with an eye for creativity and innovation, among other things.

"Probably our biggest push will be through education -- sharing the report, making people aware it's possible," said Community Council Executive Director Julie Reese. Reese said a number of local residents are already rich with experience in value-added agriculture -- "the process of increasing the economic value and consumer appeal of an agricultural commodity," according to an explanation in the report.

Operators of the Blue Mountain Cider Co. in Milton-Freewater, manufacturing firm Key Technology, the more than 100 area wineries and the local founder of Tim's Cascade Potato Chips are all examples of people who have built businesses around local agriculture. Their experiences can be gleaned to help newcomers with potential challenges, Reese said.

Nearly 50 citizens from Burbank to Dayton and south to Milton-Freewater participated in the weekly meetings between last December and July. Led by study committee Chair Mari Sanders, they explored the region's natural resources, infrastructure, land use, water and food-handling regulations, work force, education, technical support, and marketing and financing options. The group's recommendations for moving ahead are: Promote awareness of the region's historic crops and processing industry; offer workshops to teach grant-writing, business plan development and market-research skills; work with agencies to develop a checklist of steps for entrepreneurs as they plan value-added businesses; educate business operators about third-party certification and the potential for an associated price premium; evaluate the interest in and need for a Walla Walla regional marketing brand; and identify or create the organization(s) that will facilitate the development of local value-added agricultural businesses.

Recommendations also include: investigation of the potential for importing Railex products that could benefit value-added businesses; evaluate the benefits of a unified economic development entity for the county; encourage Walla Walla, Columbia and Umatilla counties to evaluate the benefits of becoming a federal Economic Development Administration district; and encourage and recruit people and businesses to the area that will contribute to the environment of creativity and innovation.


Community Council study - Value-Added Agriculture Report

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