The Louisiana Edible Creations Center® (LECC) at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, La., is a 5,000-square-foot FDA-certified shared-kitchen facility (food incubator) where food entrepreneurs can rent kitchen space at an hourly rate. The LECC is designed so that these entrepreneurs can produce and package different and unique types of food products that promote Louisiana culture, create new food companies in the region, and produce new jobs and investment opportunities for the Baton Rouge region and the state of Louisiana. Tenants of the LECC can focus their money towards product development and marketing instead of having the costs of owning their own commercial kitchen. Currently, there are only 12 food incubators in the United States, with the LECC being the only one with a Nitrogen Flash Freezer, which locks in freshness by instantly freezing the product. The LECC, which was started in 2006, is run by the Ascension Economic Development Corporation (AEDC).
The inception of LECC could not have happened at a better time. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, many areas in the Louisiana gulf region have been coping with the devastating economic impact of the hurricane. Following the hurricane, Ascension Parish, where Gonzales is located, has faced an additional challenge: a sizeable increase in population resulting from New Orleans transplants settling in both the parish and nearby Baton Rouge. With this notable population growth came a heightened need to boost the already fragile region’s post-Katrina economy. And LECC has done just that. The food incubator has given people a jumpstart toward success in the food business.
Tenants of the LECC are required to have general liability insurance and pay an hourly fee for the use of the facility and for storage of ingredients and finished products within the facility. The LECC currently houses 17 entrepreneurs from all over the state, traveling as far as Centerville, La. (75 miles from Gonzales). Of these 17, about half are caterers, while the other half are producing and packaging in the facility.
Tenants need not look very far for help. Resources available include technical assistance provided by AEDC staff, a food consultant, the Louisiana State University (LSU) Food Science Program, the LSU AgCenter, and the LSU Technology and Small Business Development Center. Most recently, an advisory committee was also formed to assist in areas such as business writing, packaging, marketing, and law, to name a few. The facility also includes a large assortment of cooking equipment, bottling and packaging equipment, a walk-in freezer, two walk-in coolers, a dry storage area, loading docks, three offices, and an outside crawfish boil and wash area. AEDC also received a grant earlier in the year to purchase a label machine and nutritional software. This allows tenants to make professional looking labels in-house at a fraction of the cost.
The idea of a food incubator is to help tenants get their idea off the ground with the hopes of graduating them onto their own facility. Some of the efforts made by the local economic development group, AEDC, involve getting these products into grocery stores around the Baton Rouge region. With about seven products ready for store shelves, AEDC plans to have LECC tenants in LeBlanc Supermarket stores in Gonzales and Prairieville by the end of October. These efforts also include helping tenants sell their products in local farmer’s markets and produce stands.
AEDC also recently hosted a seminar titled, “From Recipe to Reality,” and invited the University of Nebraska’s Food Science specialist, Jill Gifford, to speak to entrepreneurs on the guts of starting a food business. The nationally known seminar drew a crowd from all over Louisiana, as well as Texas, Florida, and Mississippi. “The exposure from the seminar really opened up eyes about the food incubator.” said Kristin Batulis, AEDC’s Director of Business Retention and Small Business Development. “Louisiana is so rich in food culture, that it’s only a matter of time before word gets out that the center is a resource to start up food companies.”
Interested prospects can call AEDC at 225-675-1750 to schedule a tour of the facility. For more information on the Louisiana Edible Creations Center®, visit their website at www.laediblecreations.org.
Tommy Kurtz is President/CEO of Ascension Economic Development Corporation in Louisiana which oversees the operations of the Louisiana Edible Creations Center®.