Wells County Economic Development is leading a push for what it calls an "aggressive and game-changing effort" for the food industry in northeast Indiana. The proposed $5.5 million Bluffton Food Innovation Center would include production, training and development space for entrepreneurs and companies looking to grow. Wells County Economic Development Executive Director Tim Ehlerding says the plan has attracted the interest of Purdue University, Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana Tech and is in line with development strategies recommended by the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and Northeast Indiana Fund.

February 4, 2015

News Release

BLUFFTON, Ind. (February 3, 2015) - The Bluffton City Council along with Mayor Ted Ellis viewed tonight the first drawings displaying the long-discussed food development and educational facility to be located in Bluffton, IN. This facility, entitled the Bluffton Food Innovation Center, possesses the mission of supporting and growing businesses that add value to agricultural and food products grown and produced throughout the greater Northeast Indiana region.

Programs taking place within the 40,000 SF Center include a Food Business Incubator where food based entrepreneurs and innovators from the greater Northeast Indiana region are provided the necessary coordination, support, advocacy, assistance, and leadership to launch and grow their food venture. Another component of the production space will be the food testing and development kitchen and laboratory which provides the environment to develop, test, and produce high-quality food products by small and medium-sized food manufacturers looking to expand their offerings.

Food industry workforce development, culinary training, and food safety education will be the focus of the Food Education and Enjoyment Center located within the Food Innovation Center. This facility is expected to house the Culinary Career Education Center provided through the regional CTE program serving area counties, and will provide training programs to existing food industry workers and companies requiring advanced skills in food handling and production. A demonstration kitchen will also be used to provide cooking and food preparation programs targeting the general public's tastes and cultures through guest chef presentations, evening dinner events, wine & plate events, and other food celebrations.

The Farm to Table and Food Hub Center will focus on providing a supply chain and distribution channel of locally grown and produced products to area institutions including schools, restaurants, cafeterias, hospitals, supermarkets, and other end users. It is anticipated a processing component for locally grown foods will be included in this initiative.

A feasibility study completed in 2008 through a partnership with the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center recommended the development of the food incubator component. Further studies in the following years through the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership and the Northeast Indiana Fund supported the need for a regional approach to developing the food cluster, with a food innovation center being a central component of the regional food cluster strategy.

The City of Bluffton has committed nearly $1 million in funds available through a former USDA grant to the community generated from the closing of a food-related facility several years ago. This fund is currently earmarked as a low-interest loan for economic development efforts.

With approval of the conceptual plans tonight, the Bluffton Food Innovation Center will now aggressively market this strategy and seek additional funding to develop the facility, estimated with equipment and initial operating costs to total $5.5 million. It is anticipated this process could take several years and a phasing of the construction may be necessary.

Wells County Economic Development will lead this aggressive and game-changing effort.

Source: Wells County Economic Development