East Troy-based custom food manufacturer Contract Comestibles is slated to become the first tenant in FaB Wisconsin’s newly announced Center of Excellence. The announcement came Thursday during the statewide food and beverage consortium’s second annual all-member meeting.
“We’re thrilled to have (president Andy Gehl’s) commitment as one of our first early tenants,” said Shelley Jurewicz, executive director of FaB. “It takes one to make the commitment, and the others will follow.”
The vision for the proposed Center of Excellence is to be similar to The Water Council’s Global Water Center and The Midwest Energy Research Consortium’s Energy Innovation Center, Jurewicz said.
“The idea of the Center of Excellence is that it will focus on increasing industry visibility and innovation,” she said. “We want to create a center that is central to connecting talent to opportunities in the industry and to put a real focus on food safety and security.”
In order to move forward with the plans for the 60,000-square-foot to 75,000-square-foot center, FaB plans to garner a 30 percent early tenant commitment rate.
Jurewicz said she anticipates the center to hold small batch manufacturers similar to Contract Comestibles, FaB’s accelerator participants, and offices for food equipment manufacturers, as well as offices for law firms and marketing organizations that specialize in the food and beverage industry.
“You should be able to walk into this building and have it be a total buzz of what this industry is and to be filled with resources to help do that,” Jurewicz said.
Contract Comestibles is planned to occupy 2,000 square feet on the first floor of the center, where it will focus on research and development and collaboration with entrepreneurs. Jurewicz said the space will be behind glass so that building visitors will be able to watch the food getting made.
Also on the first floor will be a galleria that will lay out the state’s food history, as well as its food future. The area will be open to the public, and Jurewicz expects students to come for tours.
The likely purchaser of the building when sufficient tenant commitments are reached is the Milwaukee Development Corp. Jurewicz also expects to work with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and to leverage some tax credits and historic tax credits.
The center is anticipated to be located in Milwaukee, and Jurewicz said it will probably be an existing building. She has already looked at some properties, but did not disclose further details. She does not have a date in mind to open the center, but she hopes by spring to reach the 30 percent tenant commitment rate.
“We envision an incredible, dynamic facility that will showcase the industry and support industry growth and innovation,” she said. “I’m confident we will get (the center) off the ground here in Milwaukee.”
Meanwhile, Jurewicz announced at the meeting that FaB and Milwaukee Area Technical College’s food maker school has been put on hold for now due to insufficient enrollment. It was scheduled to open in fall of 2016, but she said she is still hopeful that the project will continue.
According to Jurewicz, MATC is holding the school’s proposed location at 8th Street and National Avenue, and the school could also potentially open in the Center of Excellence.
“It’s an industry that’s never going to go away,” she said. “We always have to eat, and it’s an exciting and incredibly demanding time for the industry.”