• WisBusiness

Thursday, July 30, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: Potatoes on a roll: Spudmobile moving billboard for state's tater industry


By MaryBeth Matzek
You can't miss the Spudmobile when it's driving down the road. With an image of giant baked potato on its side combined with views of a potato field, it's definitely an eye-catcher. And that's exactly what the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association had in mind when it rolled out the Spudmobile last year.

The Spudmobile is a mobile education center dedicated to all things potatoes. And before you question why the educational push for potatoes, it's important to note that Wisconsin is a leading potato producing state. We're not Idaho, but plenty of potatoes are grown in the Badger State. Wisconsin is the No. 3 potato producer in the United States behind Idaho and Washington. (The state also ranks second in the nation for production of processed vegetables.)

A 2014 study from UW-Whitewater found that potatoes contribute $522 million to the state's economy annually. Most of the state's potatoes are grown in Portage, Waushara, Adams and Langlade counties.

The Spudmobile helps consumers understand food production and the process leading up to the quality products they find in produce departments, says WPVGA Director of Promotions Dana Rady. "It's a traveling billboard that's also functional."

The Spudmobile, which visits county fairs, grocery stores and community events, features eight different exhibits that take visitors on a journey from the farmer's field right to their dinner plates in a matter of moments. Rady says the exhibits feature interactive technology so they're not only educational, but fun. There's also an interactive touch table where children can play games and learn just how big the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry is.

Stevens Point area farmer Nick Somers came up with the idea of the Spudmobile during a WPVGA Promotions Committee meeting a few years ago and the committee then worked to bring the project to life. He views it as something similar to the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. "We were looking for new and innovative ways to promote Wisconsin potatoes and educate the public about all the different aspects of the Wisconsin potato industry," he says.

Menasha project gets boost

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. awarded a $500,000 grant to the City of Menasha to help build One Menasha Center, a $12.6 million office building in the city's downtown.

The grant is part of a deal between the city and One Menasha Center developers to create a tax incremental financing district to promote development downtown, with the office tower as its centerpiece.

Faith Technologies will be One Menasha Center's main tenant, moving 350 employees to the site. A Community First Credit Union branch and a dentist will also call the building home. The city also plans to build a 300-stall parking ramp.

More start-up funds

The Wisconsin Portfolio report from the Wisconsin Technology Council and Wisconsin Angel Network shows 113 state early stage companies raised investment capital in 2014, a 31 percent jump from 2013 when just 86 businesses received money from angel investors or venture funds.

Those 113 companies received more than $346 million, nearly three times the 2013 total of $128 million, the Wisconsin Technology Council reported. SHINE Medical Technologies of Monona reported raising the most -- $112 million.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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