Fresh and Homegrown at Menomonie Market Food Co-op
Small businesses play a significant role in shaping, maintaining, and creating job growth for cities across the nation. Therefore, community support for small businesses is critical for their survival. WHEDA understands the important role small businesses play in advancing the state’s economy and improving the quality of life for all, which is why the Authority expanded its mission to include economic development.
Small business owners throughout the state continually seek WHEDA’s financial support for their next venture. When the Authority considers which projects to provide financial aid to, much work goes into the approval process. One factor that can strengthen an application is when a project has community support. When a community backs a business or development, it demonstrates a great need, or in some cases a deficit, and shows investors like WHEDA that these projects should be of highest priority.
One Wisconsin business that has been historically backed by their community is the Menomonie Market Food Co-op (MMFC) in the City of Menomonie. The co-op was formed on a strong foundation; however, it needed a little financial assistance to continue meeting the demands of its ever-growing customer base.
The Menomonie Food Cooperative (MFC) was founded in 1973 after a group of local residents started a food buying club and decided to open a physical location to stock their inventory. The original “store” was located in a resident’s garage, but quickly moved to the choir loft of a Methodist Church when the group realized that their current business operation was illegal. The co-op faced many obstacles through the years, and nearly went out of business at one point, but managed to continue serving the Menomonie community. The co-op’s main challenge came from working in spaces that were never intended to be grocery stores. The spaces came with cramped layouts and great dysfunction. The co-op rebranded twice and relocated a handful of times with the hope of better accommodations.
In 2014, the Board of Directors completed a strategic planning project and ultimately determined that the co-op should build a facility that would meet their needs. MMFC was the smallest co-op in the United States to raise one million dollars in member support for expansion. In 2015, WHEDA allocated $5 million in New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) through its Community Development Entity (CDE), the Greater Wisconsin Opportunities Fund (GWOF), to support the creation of MMFC’s new 12,000 square foot facility.
|Our facility was old, inefficient, and was not originally designed to be a grocery store. In short, our space was preventing us from being competitive in today's grocery market, leading to inconvenience and higher prices for customers.|
|-Crystal, General Manager of MMFC|
MMFC moved into their new facility in August 2015 as Menomonie’s only community-owned grocery store and deli. Today, the co-op is owned by more than 2,000 households and upholds their mission to grow a thriving, healthy community by providing high quality, natural and organic produce at a fair price while also supporting local producers. While the old location only had eight parking spaces, four aisles, and two cash registers, the new facility includes expanded product lines; a large deli which is capable of serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and a community classroom that promotes and delivers popular health and wellness programs to the community such as ‘Beginners Yoga’ and ‘How to Raise Backyard Chickens’.
For nearly 50 years, the Menomonie Market Food Co-op has received continued support and praise from the residents of Menomonie. Thanks to WHEDA’s NMTC program, the co-op was able to expand their products and services to benefit customers, employees, and farmers alike. The MMFC is modeled in strategic plans for other co-ops throughout the country and is a strong example of how community support can go a long way; Together We Build Wisconsin®.