VIROQUA — Susan Noble raised the flag in front of Viroqua’s Food Enterprise Center on Wednesday afternoon to mark the opening of a renovated 100,000-square-foot manufacturing facility.
“Hallelujah,” she said. “We’re back in business.”
A crowd of about 60 business leaders from throughout the Coulee Region attended the grand opening of the facility formerly operated by NCR.
Noble, executive director of the Vernon Economic Development Association, said the loss of 81 jobs when NCR closed in 2009 “was a tremendous blow to our community, but (VEDA) took it as an opportunity and ran with it.”
VEDA put together a multi-million dollar plan to repurpose the NCR plant as the Food Enterprise Center. The financing included $2 million from the Federal Economic Development Administration, a $1.8 million Midwest Disaster Bond and other loans and lines of credit through six area banks.
The manufacturing plant has been remodeled and now has four tenants, Keewaydin Organics, LuSa Organics, Ridgetop Foods and Fifth Season Cooperative. All are involved in either distributing food or producing value-added food products.
Matt Erskine, the acting assistant secretary for economic development for the U.S. Economic Develop-ment Administration, helped Noble raise the flag. He called the center a “cutting-edge project” that will help businesses grow and thrive for many years.
“I challenge you to make this such a success that we will point it out as a shining example of public and private partnership,” Erskine said.
For Noble, the moment was about a vow she made when NCR employees, who were losing their jobs, came to her and asked for help in 2009.
“We dedicate this flag to the former employees of NCR who lost their jobs,” Noble said. “Today is a day to honor those folks.”
The Food Enterprise Center includes a commercial kitchen, and its businesses have plans to add employees. The center has room to add more tenants as it becomes a better-known hub for organic and conventional agricultural products for consumers.