Food Truck Incubator program receives funding | News

BLUEFIELD — The Bluefield Economic Development Authority’s (BEDA) proposed Food Truck Incubator Project has been awarded a $400,000 grant to get the program started.

Bluefield City Board agreed earlier this year to provide $100,000 in “stake holder” funding to fully finance the $500,000 project, with the money returned to the city as more grants are found.

Jim Spencer, director of BEDA and community and economic development director for the city, said he and Courtney Neese, project manager for Region 1 Public Service District based in Princeton, accepted the grant at Frostburg State University in Maryland on Monday.

Gayle Manchin, Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Co-Chair, made the presentation as part of the $14.7 million given around the state through the POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Initiative.

“This makes the Food Truck Incubator program official,” Spencer said. “We have already had 169 people express an interest.”

Spencer applied for the regional grant to create the program, which will include two food trucks for temporary use to help train those who are enrolled.

Those who participate must obtain an online entrepreneur class certification, build a business plan, take a driving course for a truck and obtain financing for the initial working capital costs.

Each participant, who should already have some culinary experience, will be able to use one of the two trucks temporarily, setting up at 10 different locations for on-the-job training.

“The goal would be to start 12 new businesses in the region each year,” he said, adding that the average revenue of a food truck in the U.S. is between $250,000 and $500,000 a year.

The national market size of the food truck industry was $1.2 billion last year with an expected growth of 3.4 percent this year.

It is a regional program, involving partnerships with 10 counties in Southern West Virginia.

Because of Spencer’s previous business incubator projects, like the Commercialization Station, support services for entrepreneurs has already been set up, including help with obtaining financing and marketing.

A Food Truck Association for the region will be chartered by BEDA, he said, and one eventually for the state.

After Spencer made the announcement about the program earlier this year, 50 of the 169 who had expressed an interest signed up for one of the required classes – BEDA’s free Entrepreneur’s BootCamp, through Santa Clara University, which teaches the foundations of how to build a new business.

Spencer said one person has already finished that class, which consists of 16 online classes lasting between 30 to 45 minutes each, and received certification after passing exams.

“You can be the world’s best chef but fail at business,” he said, pointing to the necessity of learning the business basics first.

Once each applicant has completed all the necessary steps, the first 12 participants will be selected based on their preparations and readiness, Spencer said, including having the working capital in place and selecting the 10 fairs/festivals/events to use the food truck for real experience.

That experience will give them a chance to see how the operation will work and if the food they offer appeals to customers.

Although there is a 60-day timeframe for using the trucks, Spencer said the faster a participant can schedule the 10 events and finish, the quicker other participants can be given their chance.

He said all participants will have help available through every step of the process, including consulting chefs about their choice of food to sell, which should be specialized, not a large variety.

“We are going to hit the ground running,” Spencer said, with the only possible delay relating to how quickly those new food trucks can be purchased, considering supply chain issues.

The hope is to have them by January so they can be used in February with those interested starting straightaway to work on the requirements.

“I have been in local government for more than 30 years,” he said, and he has developed a love of new, innovative programs. “We have worked hard on this one. It is truly an exciting program.”

Those interested can visit mybluefield.org to sign up for the Entrepreneur’s BootCamp.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., released statements about the ARC grants presented Monday.

“As the ranking member of the committee that oversees ARC, I know how critical the POWER program is to strengthening coal communities across our state,” Capito said. “The grants announced today will support a range of local awardees focused on everything from broadband expansion, which my committee included specific language for in the ARC’s reauthorization, to workforce development. I’m looking forward to the benefits West Virginia’s counties, cities, and towns will see as a result.”

“The Appalachian Regional Commission’s continued investment in revitalizing and strengthening Appalachia is great news for our state and the entire region,” Manchin said. “The funding announced today will help expand high-speed broadband access, bolster our agricultural industry and create new economic opportunity for West Virginians across the state. Investing in our local communities creates good-paying jobs and spurs economic growth, and I look forward to seeing the positive impacts of these projects for the Mountain State.”

Other projects in West Virginia included $2.4 million to the Summers County Commission for a broadband expansion project.

In Virginia, as part of the broader $47 million package, ARC awarded a grant of $500,000 to the Health Wagon for dental services.

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va. made the announcement.

“Access to dental services is out of reach for too many in Southwest Virginia,” he said. “ARC’s award of $500,000 to the Health Wagon promises to expand dental care and improve health in our region.”

According to ARC, the project will cover Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott and Wise Counties. It will facilitate education and training of new dental professionals and provide comprehensive oral health care services. The project will create four jobs (a dentist, dental hygienist, dental assistant, and a dental case manager), improve 2,000 patients through the provision of oral health services, and improve six trainees through clinical workforce training over the course of one year.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com



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