Thursday, June 16, 2011
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
If you read this blog regularly, you know I'm Jeanne Carpenter: self-proclaimed cheese geek, grown-up farm girl, accredited journalist and recovering state government propaganda specialist. You may also know that since 2004, in one way or another, I've been involved with the Dairy Business Innovation Center (DBIC), a not-for-profit organization that helps new artisan and specialty cheesemakers get started, helps existing commodity dairy plants transition to more specialty (and profitable) dairy products, and assists Wisconsin dairy farmers build and launch new specialty dairy products on their farms, helping them weather the up-and-down cycles of federal milk prices.
For about the past five years, I've served as the communications director for the DBIC, and it’s been an absolute blast sharing the successes of our clients during that time (and often giving the readers of this blog the inside track to what's new). From dairy plant grand openings, to product launches, to articles on record-breaking specialty cheese production and a stack of ever-growing awards for Wisconsin cheesemakers, there has never been shortage of good news since the DBIC launched an array of technical services to dairy entrepreneurs.
Sharing good news was always the best part of my job with the DBIC. But, I've also come to realize that sharing the not-so-good news is also part of my responsibility to the industry. And unfortunately, this is one of those not-so-good news moments.
Since 2004, the Dairy Business Innovation Center has received funding for its services through federal funding earmarks (yours and my tax dollars at work), designated through the Honorable Herb Kohl. Senator Kohl has been a tireless champion of Wisconsin dairy, and at the DBIC, we have tried our best to fulfill the mission he gave us seven years ago “to reinvigorate America’s Dairyland.” More than 150 clients later, 68 new specialty dairy products, and more than 50 expanded and newly constructed dairy plants, we like to think we’ve made significant process in accomplishing that mission. And while there is still more work to do, our time at the DBIC is coming to a close, as our original funding resources have ended, and attempts to secure alternative funding are failing.
As a result, the DBIC Board of Directors recently voted to stretch out remaining DBIC dollars and keep our virtual doors open, with limited services, until June 2012. For the next year, the DBIC will focus solely on providing technical assistance to new specialty dairy start-ups and those dairy plants who are transitioning from commodity to more profitable specialty and value-added products. We will be reducing or ending our training, education, workshops and all non-technical services. Our first and foremost aim is to help as many entrepreneurs and budding cheesemakers start-up or expand their operations in the next year, with a second goal of providing the technical tools to keep them successful in the future.
While the DBIC may only have one year remaining to continue its mission “to reinvigorate America’s Dairyland,” the legacy of the organization and its founder Dan Carter, an incredible advocate for Wisconsin cheese for the past 50 years, will not be forgotten. I am incredibly proud and honored to have served on the DBIC team from its very beginning, when we had no name and no funding, to the very end, when our name will endure, but our mission will end. I know every consultant who has worked for the DBIC carries in his or her heart the passion to help Wisconsin dairy entrepreneurs, and many of us will personally continue that mission.
In my role at the DBIC, and of course through my own writing work and event planning with Wisconsin Cheese Originals, I look forward to continuing to tell the story of Wisconsin dairy. I truly believe the DBIC has acted as a yellow brick road to the land of successful value-added dairy for many a Wisconsin dairy entrepreneur, and I am heartbroken it is coming to a close. Please know that Dan Carter is continuing to seek alternative sources of funding to keep the DBIC’s doors open and welcomes input and ideas from the industry in moving forward. Dan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 920-387-5085.