Wisconsin’s Dairy Business Innovation Center closes

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Another dairy institution bites the dust: The non-profit Dairy Business Innovation Center (DBIC) closed at the end of September. Organizers say a lack of federal funding and the inability to raise private money has led the center to close.

DBIC consultants once provided business planning, product development, facility assessment, packaging and labeling development as well as marketplace penetration advice to growing specialty, farmstead and artisan dairy processing businesses. Since it was launched in 2004, the virtual DBIC and its partners assisted more than 200 dairy entrepreneurs, coordinating more than 120 products. As a result, 43 new dairy processing plants opened in Wisconsin, and another 92 expended operations.

“Ten years ago, Wisconsin's dairy industry was not a pretty picture,” founder and chairman Dan Carter said in a written summary of the center's contributions. “We were losing dairy farms, cow numbers were decreasing and dairy plants were operating at 70 percent of capacity. We had little modernization or reinvestment, and California was eating our lunch with newer, larger and more efficient facilities."

But despite leading $1.2 billion in reinvestments from the dairy industry, federal funding ceased two years ago, says Jeanne Carpenter, the former communications director of the organization. DBIC’s annual budget was around half a million dollars.

“We've been running on fumes for the last two years, stretching money, cutting back on services and consultants have donated time,” Carpenter told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

And at the end, it was not politically expedient to continue to fund the organization, she writes on her blog.

“For the life of me, I can not understand why an organization that helped more than 200 dairy farmers, artisan, farmstead and specialty cheesemakers, milk processors, yogurt makers, ice cream manufacturers, and buttermakers with no- to low-cost, world-class technical, business and marketing assistance, was simply allowed to shrivel up and die,” Carpenter says. “What I can tell you is that like all endings of government-run not-for-profits, this ending was pointlessly political… I'm pretty sure every dairy farmer who received grant funds to modernize his fourth-generation family farm doesn't care which industry organization got the credit.”

DBIC consultants offered their services for $50 an hour vs. the $200 to $250 they earned in the private sector, Carpenter says. The organization initially was launched with a $1 million federal earmark secured by Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and received administrative support from Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, but no state funding.



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