Nothing fishy about this proposal

Published 6:56 pm Saturday, September 13, 2014

As I left the office one night last week, I was once again struck by one of my favorite things about Suffolk — the smell of coffee beans roasting.

I’ve never been a coffee drinker, which makes me something of a rarity among journalists, but I’ve always loved the smell of coffee beans, so it’s a great treat for me to live and work in a place that processes as much java as Suffolk does.

For a recent edition of Suffolk Living magazine, I had the opportunity to tour and photograph the Massimo Zanetti plant in the Wilroy Industrial Park, and I even stepped out of my comfort zone to take part in a tasting — a “cupping” in the parlance of that industry. Though I was not converted to a coffee drinker by the experience, it gave me a new appreciation for the work people do there to make sure folks get their caffeine fix each morning.

Email newsletter signup

For the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that the industry has personal importance to me, as well, since my wife works in the administrative wing of Wanchese Fish Co. in the Northgate Commerce Park. Sometimes I call her the Fish Lady. But not when she’s close enough to strike.

Since Annette started that job several years ago, I’ve naturally paid more attention to her industry, and so I was not surprised by Suffolk Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes’ recent assessment of the importance of food processors to Suffolk’s economy.

Massimo Zanetti, Wanchese, Planters, Birdsong, Smucker, Unilever, Sysco and others have all made their homes in Suffolk, sending countless truckloads of food products to consumers around the country. “We feed America” might be a good slogan to consider next time the city is looking for something catchy to put on its letterhead. And I won’t even ask for a fee if they use it.

Meanwhile, a program described by Hughes to entice new food processors to locate in Suffolk would be a boon to the industry and to Suffolk’s tax base. Hughes proposed that the Economic Development Authority offer up to $100,000 in aid to new food processing companies to encourage them to bring their businesses to Suffolk.

The program would give start-ups a maximum of $100,000 from the Economic Development Investment Program. Half would be a loan guarantee, and the other half would go toward the lease or purchase of a site. The program also would connect entrepreneurs with mentors, business education resources, real estate and financing options, Hughes said.

The amount of the payments would depend on the likely return on the city’s investment, and there would be significant reporting requirements for those who took part. The city would remain engaged with its partners to help ensure their success, as well as Suffolk’s expected tax returns.

“There’s only so many Lipton Teas; there’s only so many Massimo Zanettis,” Hughes told the EDA. “We want to not just go after the big guys; we want to grow our little guys.”

That makes good economic sense, and there’s nothing fishy about it.