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From a local sausage producer to a homegrown tea operation, a group of small business owners lined up in Lancaster County Council chambers late last month to voice support for the county’s Agribusiness Development Center.
The thumbs up came about an hour before council approved funding, during its Sept. 23 meeting, for the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. to relocate its offices into the center.
LCEDC manages the Agribusiness Development Center, which is located in the old Founders Federal Credit Union building on Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521).
Taking the lead was Blondale Funderburk, owner of R&B Meat Center, on Great Falls Highway.
She said her business, which specializes in producing pork sausage and plans to feature corn bread as well, has grown significantly since opening several years ago.
What began as a small operation, she said, has blossomed, as her products are now being sold in several major markets, including 80 Piggly Wiggly stores, as well as multiple Walmart and Sam’s Club stores.
“Now, I’m to the point I’m turning down business from Bi-Lo and Publix because I ran out of storage, so I’m going to take up a lease at the Agribusiness Center,” Funderburk said. “I’m very excited.”
Funderburk said she initially looked at some promising small business opportunities in Rock Hill.
However, after conversations with LCEDC President Keith Tunnell and LCEDC’s Agribusiness Coordinator Elaine McKinney, she decided to expand her business locally.
“My goal is to bring jobs to the community,” she said. “I’m also collaborating with Vocational Rehab to bring jobs and help employ people. Please consider keeping Agribusiness Center here because we have a need for it.”
For Katherine Isaacs, owner of KTeas, working with the Agribusiness Development Center could help diversify and expand her unique selection of teas.
“I have a wonderful opportunity to expand our business. Right now we get tea packaged for us by a USDA-approved facility and we can’t make our own blends. We would love to get into stores like Piggly Wiggly and other local stores,” Isaacs told council.
After researching the effects of similar small business incubators in other states, Isaacs urged council to continue supporting the agribusiness venture.
“It allows us to get involved in the community. This would also allow us to get into cooking with tea and get into food pairings and exposure for this local product,” she said. “I’m eager for the Agribusiness Center because it’s a wonderful opportunity.”
Though his organization isn’t food related, Lancaster resident Randolph Brooks Jr. said the Agribusiness Development Center is vital to the community.
As a member of the Carolinas Veteran Commission, which uses the building, he said the center has been a great place for his group to be located.
“Since we’ve been in the building, we have served 1,000 veterans, widows, spouses and provide them with important information,” he said. “Help us to continue to allow small business to grow and grab a foothold in this community. We’ll do you proud and not because we have to, but because we want to.”
Council did not respond to the owners’ comments. Other than voting on the LCEDC office move, it did not discuss the Agribusiness Development Center.
Established in 2012, the center is a 22,600-square-foot shared-use kitchen and manufacturing facility. It was developed to serve as an incubator for food businesses, farmers’ market vendors, or anyone in need of a commercially licensed kitchen.
The facility is designed to house multiple small agricultural-related companies, allowing them space to manufacture and distribute products, while also providing them small business guidance. It features a demo kitchen, as well as a ‘wet’ kitchen for preparing items such as sauces, and a ‘dry’ kitchen for breads or herbs. Also inside are steam kettles, convection ovens, commercial mixers and refrigerators.
The center’s first tenant was Sandy Creek Herb Company which has since moved into its own facility.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416