DCI Blog

Food Innovation Districts

Understanding how to grow your local economy by leveraging the local food system

Through our 30+ years in the industry, DCI has seen numerous trends emerge and with each one, it is necessary for us to evaluate these in order to fully serve our client’s needs. As consultants, we must know what are suitable and understand how these various tools and strategies can be leveraged to create new opportunities in the communities where we work. DCI sees the local food movement as a significant emerging economic driver that can provide far reaching benefits to our current and future clients, helping them to address the challenges, which in the past, have limited economic growth within their community.

Food District Elements

Food as an economic driver

The United States Department of Agriculture reported the direct-to-consumer market for local foods as a key growth industry with projected sales of local foods to nearly double in just a three-year span. Communities are now looking at pioneering approaches to “re” attract that growth to their neighborhood and leverage it to cultivate their own local economies. This post will provide you the basic information on how your community can leverage a Food Innovation District (FID) as an economic development tool to grow your local economy.

How local food systems benefit your community?

  • Keep local dollars in the local economy – US News reports that approximately 68% of each dollar spent in the local economy is recycled back into the local system compared to only 43% of each dollar spent at regional and national chains (US News).
  • Everybody eats, everyday – Local food systems provide opportunities for all walks of life to participate in improving their community unlike most traditional economic development incentives which have roles for only a few players, typically between public officials and large corporations.
  • Turn liabilities into assets – The Great Recession left many commercial areas in a continual state of disinvestment. Repurposing these former commercial and industrial properties as part of the local food system creates a new future for declining commercial areas.
  • Create a destination – A concentration of local, food-related businesses defines your place in the larger market and provides an identify for your community to those outside your neighborhood.

What is a Food Innovation District (FID)?

A Food Innovation District or FID is a concentration of complementary food-related businesses, services, and activities supported by local governments and organizations to establish a healthy business climate, promote economic growth, and increase access to healthy locally-grown foods. Similar to a Business Acceleration Zone, these emerging districts allow small business clusters to collaborate and network, reducing barriers to entry and costs through shared infrastructure, common expenses, and access to other resources.

Three distinct “types” of FIDs are most commonly found – producer-oriented, community-oriented, and place-oriented – each with its own distinct set of activities, services, and businesses served. The producer-oriented district focuses on the early stages of food production, with structures in place to serve the growing, producing, storage, and transportation needs of various business types. With an emphasis on retail and educational components, community-oriented districts support neighborhood residents by providing access to healthy food options through initiatives such as community kitchens, harvest gleaning programs, and farm to table restaurants and local artesian shops. Place-oriented districts are the front door to local food systems and provide inclusion for the larger community to participate in the system. As a destination for festivals, fairs, and events, these districts support infrastructure upgrades that reinvent the sense of place for communities.

FIDs – Growing your economic opportunities

Leveraging the local food system has far greater impacts than providing opportunities for food-related businesses. With proper support and a strategic implementation plan in place, FIDs have the ability to “wake-up” local economies suffering from long-term disinvestment.

Employment Opportunities. Direct and indirect employment opportunities created within the food system build individual wealth and induce additional spending at the local level, which in turn stimulates additional business investment. FIDs create a healthy business atmosphere by providing the support and infrastructure local businesses and entrepreneurs need to build capacity and compete in the regional market.

Healthy Options. Food insecurity and access to healthy food options is a growing concern in low-income neighborhoods. FIDs bring together services and facilities that support access to healthy foods, and more importantly, education on how to utilize unfamiliar foods. Food banks, harvest gleaning practices, farm to school programs, and community gardens support state and federal efforts to remove barriers to healthy eating, reducing rising costs of chronic disease treatment related to unhealthy lifestyles.

Built Environment. It has become typical to find defunct commercial buildings scattered throughout older neighborhoods, leaving many communities with underperforming tax bases, loss of employment opportunities, and depressed real estate values. FIDs provide an innovative opportunity to attract new investment by transforming these vacant buildings into facilities that support the food system and economic growth. Producer-oriented elements such as warehousing, processing, and transportation are easily adaptive to these buildings, but creative uses such as micro-restaurant clusters, community kitchens, and business incubators expand opportunities for entrepreneurs and business start-ups.

Capture the Market. All neighborhoods and small communities compete for a share of the money spent in the local economy. As individual resources dwindle, competition for a share of this market increases. FIDs create a niche market that attracts spending from outside a neighborhood’s typical primary market; pulling in consumer spending from larger regional markets by offering a unique set of goods and services in the growing direct-to-consumer market. Farmers markets, local restaurant clusters, artisan shops, and festivals enhance the overall quality of life and distinguish an area within the larger market.

Organizing around FIDs

By now you’re probably on board with the whole idea of using a FID to spur economic growth in your community, but how do you organize around this concept? The first step is simple, define your area’s opportunities and what you hope to accomplish with a FID. Next identify citizens, organizations, and businesses that will champion your effort. And finally work with elected and civic leaders to identify tools and resources that can help you implement your ideas.

> > Are you envisioning a FID for your community? DCI can help. For more information on our (re)development and implementation services visit our webpage.

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