Saturday, June 13, 2015

How Local Economic Development Is Supposed To Work

I must admit when I wrote Imagine a week or so ago the post reads like pie in the sky dreams too big to come true. Our vision isn't small either. After all, a project like I'm talking about won't be cheap.

I've since learned that loans up to $300,000 are available under the USDA Farm Services Agency. We don't even have to own the land as many farms are on leased property. I'm hoping we can get a dirt cheap lease from Guilford County.

But $300,000 won't build classrooms and offices.

So I've made arrangements with Bessemer United Methodist Church on Bessemer Avenue to rent temporary classrooms and office space at prices we can afford. The church is 4 minutes away from our chosen site on foot, 40 seconds by car.

And $300,000 will build 1 big greenhouse with an aquaponics system inside. Temporary offices and classrooms plus one permanent greenhouse will be enough facilities to get us started. As a matter of fact: NC A&T University plans to build several greenhouses about a half mile away on Lombardy Street for a project they're calling an urban farm and they're only spending $300,000.

To our advantage, the A&T project will require that a new parking lot be built. We already have a parking lot-- it simply needs some work.

Of course there are going to be other expenses-- a lot of them.

Qualified professors don't work for free. Neither will the rest of the employees. Volunteers will help but there will still be payroll to meet.

Thankfully USDA grants are available. There might also be grants from NC State University and NC A&T University as we hope to have both schools involved. That said, no one has signed on any dotted lines just yet so everything remains speculation.

We'll have to buy seeds, furniture and office equipment. Believe you me, I'm not above taking hand me downs from wherever we can get them.

Corporate sponsors are a possibility. As a matter of fact, Salvage America has already agreed to be a corporate sponsor. As a 501 (3) c we will be able to solicit tax deductible funding from anyone. In case you're wondering, the owner of Salvage America is a former employer of mine. When he found out I was doing this he picked up his phone and called me to ask how he can help.

There's several local suppliers and manufacturers who would stand to make a lot of money if an aquaponics school were built here and an industry was created around it. If they don't find us first I plan to track them down.

As far as getting our non profit status goes, I'm in discussions with existing non profits about doing the project under their supervision. No decision has been made but working with an existing 501 (3) c would speed up the project by about a year allowing us to take donations right away.

Of course, donations from the public will also be acceptable.

Perhaps the best thing about the model we are using is the fact that while we need money to start, we won't always need money. By running an actual aquaponics production facility at the school (the only practical way to teach aquaponics) we'll be able to derive income from sales of produce and fish while taking in tuition from the students we teach.

And in the future when we finally build that visitor center I'm dreaming about we can also take in more profits so that in a few years Bessemer Aquaponics will be funding economic development, small businesses and other non profits all over Greensboro, all over North Carolina, and beyond.

Our next meeting is July 16. Why not come out and talk about how we can get this done?