Elconin Helps Lane Food and Beverage Sector Strategies Gain Traction

An advisory board of 21 local business leaders is guiding the work of Sector Strategist, Micah Elconin of Season to Taste Consulting, to solidify Lane County as a food and beverage manufacturing hub.  Lane County is home to over 138 food and beverage manufacturing companies, which employ over 3,300 people, bringing over $131 million dollars in wages to the area.   

Elconin was selected by the Lane Sector Strategies Team. The group is made up of workforce development, economic development, and city and business leaders focused on economic and workforce development for Lane County.  His work is funded by Lane Workforce Partnership, Lane County, Eugene Chamber of Commerce, EWEB, and Lane Community College.

Food And Beverage Companies Join Together To Collaborate At An Unprecedented Level

The advisory board represents a diverse group of food and beverage manufacturers. Veteran industry leaders like Springfield Creamery and GloryBee Foods are collaborating with entrepreneurs in local growing companies like Elegant Elephant Baking and Young Mountain Tea, directing Elconin’s work towards the accomplishment of goals identified by regional businesses.  “Lane County has a rich history of companies and products in the food and beverage industry.  I’m excited about the work being done to foster that spirit of creativity and all the while gain efficiencies through a coordinated effort,” says Whit Hemphill, Co-Owner of Wildtime Foods.

Food and Beverage Sector Strategy Goals:

  1. Develop shared resources to attract, retain, and grow local businesses.
  2. Create positive awareness and recognition through coordinated branding efforts.
  3. Build a stronger workforce — aligning curriculums at local high schools and colleges to raise awareness of food and beverage careers.
  4. Decreasing utility costs by increasing awareness of utility assistance programs and other efforts.
  5. Streamline regulations and permitting.
  6. Increase collaboration across the industry.

The sector is rallying support around Elconin as he brokers connections and develops creative strategies for collaboration. Recently he brought together a group of businesses to pool purchase of cane sugar. This led to a savings of over 20 cents per pound  – a significant reduction in the cost of a staple ingredient for these manufacturers.  

Elconin is also supporting the efforts of the Oregon Distillers Guild to create more parity in the taxes imposed on Oregon distillers by the OLCC.  Distilleries are currently required to pay up to 40% of their consumer direct sales from tasting rooms to the OLCC. In contrast, wineries and breweries pay no additional fees from direct consumer sales in their tasting rooms.  Kyle Akin, President of Crescendo Spirits said, “Developing awareness for the need to reform our state’s regulations in our business sector has been difficult.  Micah has been an integral part of developing connections to aid this effort.”  

In order to foster workforce development, recruitment, and retention, Elconin is raising awareness about food and beverage manufacturing careers. In celebration of National Manufacturing Day on October 6th, nearly 100 high school students from 15 different local high schools took part in tours of Euphoria Chocolate, Chocolate Alchemy, SnoTemp, and Glorybee Foods getting first-hand experience of the industry. This is just one example of a greater effort by Eugene Chamber of Commerce, Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and Connected Lane County to highlight food sector jobs.  

Elconin also helped coordinate a panel of Industry experts at University of Oregon’s Innovation Summit on October 27th.  Jake Sablosky, an accelerated Oregon MBA student at Lundquist College of Business, Vice President of Business Development at Nu Naturals was the moderator of the panel. He said, “Being a younger member of the F&B community in Lane County, the networking and collaboration that has occurred within a short period of time has already been invaluable to my professional growth.”

The Lundquist College of Business will be offering a new Food Business Course during the Spring quarter of 2018. The addition of this course to the University’s curriculum will be a part of the new Food Studies Minor and Graduate Certificate programs. 

Cottage Grove Business Challenge 

The first annual Cottage Grove Business Challenge is one example of the collaboration within the food and beverage community to support local entrepreneurs. Elconin helped coordinate the Challenge with RAIN Eugene, Cottage Grove CDC, and Chamber of Commerce to celebrate entrepreneurship in the Cottage Grove area. Over half of the two dozen applicants were food and beverage entrepreneurs and the top three plans selected by the judges from the community were all from growing food and beverage companies.  

Sanity Chocolate, SOHR Performance, and Real Live Foods took home a combined $10,000 in prize money. Lauren Jerome, a Mentor in Residence at RAIN Eugene and partner at Mindbox coordinated the contest.  Jerome stated, “The recent success we found in the Cottage Grove Business Challenge validated our need to support emerging businesses in our rural areas and gave us a better idea of the landscape. I see a great opportunity for a partnership between the food & beverage and tech sectors, especially in Lane County.”  Elconin and Jerome are working together to plan a food and tech event in early 2018.  

Financing Workshop

Access to capital is always a concern for growing companies and food and beverage businesses have very specific financing needs.  Elconin is connecting entrepreneurs with lenders to finance their growth and working with young companies to help get them loan ready. Local lenders met with entrepreneurs at a Debt Financing Workshop organized by Elconin at RAIN Eugene in early November. Maia Hardy, Loan Officer at Community LendingWorks was one of the panelists.  

“As a community development lender and a supporter of this industry, we are finding the increased synergy valuable to both our existing and potential clients and our staff. The coordination between economic development agencies and business support organizations is creating a community around this industry that can only propel it forward,”  Hardy said. Community LendingWorks has provided over $1mm in early stage debt financing to food and beverage companies through over 50 loans since 2012. These successful early-stage loans set the stage for many of these companies to work with traditional lenders as they seek out additional capital for continued growth.

What Is In Store

Looking towards the future, Elconin plans to earn more national attention for Lane County food and beverage products as he and his advisory board dive into larger projects. “It is wonderful to see us working together as a unified sector,” says Sat Bir Khalsa, Director of Global Community and HR Development at Yogi Tea. “Our community has been a pioneer and front-runner for natural food and other food and beverage categories for many years. We are now collaborating and engaging our talented businesses to benefit the whole. Our work will bring awareness of the breadth and depth of our businesses, give a voice to our sector, promote collaboration for sharing resources, and promote collective success for our communities.”

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Industry Advisory Board:

Other Advisors:

Micah Elconin Bio:

Micah Elconin is the founder of Season to Taste Consulting.  He leverages over a decade of experience as a sales manager, food entrepreneur, non-profit manager, analyst, teacher, professional chef, and amateur gardener to provide value for regional food businesses.  He is also a Mentor in Residence at RAIN Eugene.  Micah holds an MBA from the University of Oregon, BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara and dual certificates from Bauman College.  He’s also an avid rock climber, runner, and cyclist.