MADISON (WKOW) -- A federally-funded program that has helped hundreds of Wisconsin dairy producers will close at the end of the month. Officials at the Dairy Business Innovation Center (DBIC) hope the help is still there after they're gone.
DBIC has been providing funding and a network for struggling dairy businesses since 2004. The cheese industry in particular has evolved and become much more profitable with their guidance.
DBIC's $500-thousand budget was covered for the first six years by a federal earmark secured by Sen. Herb Kohl, but when that money ran out they were only able to fund the project for two more years. That funding went towards grants and also paid for the core focus of the program-- providing experts in things like marketing and distribution. Those consultants went out to businesses and worked hands-on with owners to improve their business plans and profit margins.
"There have been people whose lives have been changed in a great way, got back in the business, it was an efficient little program that really spurred a lot of artisans," says John Umhoefer, DBIC board vice president.
Chris Roelli's family has been making cheese for more than 100 years. In 1991, his father's cheese factory in Schullsburg was losing money and they had to close it down, but with DBIC's help, Roelli was able to reopen it again in 2006, and they're doing better than ever now thanks to DBIC help.
"The little things like marketing plans, label development, all those sort of behind the scenes business things that a small company cannot afford to pay for,'' says Roelli.
Umhoefer says there are countless stories like Roelli's, of how the non-profit has helped revive the cheese industry and spurred growth. Officials say they've helped more than 200 business owners with services that would otherwise be unaffordable. In eight years, the team of consultants has contributed to the opening of 43 new dairy processing plants in Wisconsin and expansion for 92.
Umhoefer says DBIC's success rate was better than expected. The project was originally supposed to be for just three years, but they had so much interest they continued on.
Now, the board is working to find other agencies that might be able to pick up where they leave off at the end of the month. Umhoefer says the network of relationships the team has built has connected the industry and will always be in place.
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