March is Food and Ag Month in Michigan. Agriculture, food processors and related businesses employ 22 percent of the state’s workforce, and the state has 2,166 licensed food processors generating nearly $25 billion in economic activity. Macomb County is no exception to this growing trend. With 502 farms spanning 67,960 acres and 1,409 food manufacturing jobs, Macomb County boasts a healthy food and agricultural industry. Here is a close-up look at the path one Harrison Township food processor is taking to build a successful food business in Macomb County.
You may have heard about Dave’s Sweet Tooth when CEO Andrew Chmielewski made the Crain’s Detroit Business “20 in their 20s” list or landed on the Forbes “30 under 30” food and drink list, or you may have even seen the company featured on Good Morning America last year. Their toffee is carried in stores across the state and country, including Kroger, Marshalls, Whole Foods Market and Nino Salvaggio, as well as sold online. They will even be featured once again on Good Morning America as the Deal of the Day tomorrow, March 30. In business for only five years, this company is expanding at an incredible rate.
Dave’s Sweet Tooth manufactures delicious handmade toffee made from Chmielewski’s father’s homemade recipe. While touring the 5,000-square-foot facility, I was able to watch workers take the cooled toffee from baking sheets and break it into pieces by hand. In another room, employees were stuffing the toffee pieces into packages. Seems simple enough. Yet, a lot of hard work went into establishing the business, and more lies ahead to ensure the company’s growth is sustainable. And that’s where the experts come in.
Chmielewski is tapping into all of the resources and services available to entrepreneurs. He is currently enrolled in the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s economic gardening program. The Michigan Manufacturing Technical Center is also helping the company prepare for their Safe Quality Food (SQF) inspection as well as prepare the hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) plan.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is offering the company support through providing information about export programs which could help the company tap into markets in Canada, China or anywhere in the world. MDARD offers trade missions and participates in international trade shows where companies can become familiar with foreign markets and even meet one-on-one with buyers to discuss their products. The state also offers the Branding Program which reimburses companies up to 50 percent for translation services, airfare, hotel costs and vendor table space for international trips and toward expenses such as creating bilingual labels and websites geared toward a foreign market.
Jack Johns, program coordinator for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development, also met with Chmielewski to discuss any needs the growing company has. Johns informed him that when Dave’s Sweet Tooth finds itself at capacity in its current space, Macomb County can help the company locate a new facility and take advantage of all the cost-saving incentives available to food processing businesses, which may include a tax abatement.
If you are a food or agricultural business in Macomb County, reach out to Johns at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (586) 469-6293 to see what kinds of programs, incentives and partners are out there to help your business succeed.
Caitlin Gerds-Habermas is an associate planner in Business Outreach and Communications for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.