TRAVERSE CITY — Getting local products to market is taking on a whole new meaning in northern Michigan.

A partnership between the Northwest Michigan Small Business Development Center and Taste the Local Difference is offering free marketing services to farmers and other small food-based businesses in the region.

According to a release, “priority is given to businesses with 10 or fewer employees and they must be for-profit entities.”

Applications for the program opened Feb. 12 and close on Feb. 17.

To apply for these free marketing services, visit www.localdifference.org/SBDC-NW.

Annie Olds, the regional director of Northwest Michigan SBDC at Networks Northwest, said the number of awards will depend on need. The value of the services awarded for each business is up to $4,000.

“We’re anticipating another 10 businesses to be awarded these services,” Olds said.

A soft launch of the program in January has five companies participating in the first round of the program. Olds said nearly 50 businesses applied for the opening round.

“That was a good learning curve for us,” Olds said.

Olds said the Small Business Administration has confidentiality requirements in place for the initial five businesses in the program. Olds did say the five companies for the pilot program include two in Antrim County, two in Grand Traverse County and one in Missaukee.

These five businesses employ a total of 40 people.

“The northwest region has been a leader in the state of Michigan’s ‘buy local movement’ for nearly 20 years and we know that it’s important for our small farmers, growers, producers, and other food-based businesses to get some much needed help as well,” Olds said in the release. “We’ve chosen to lend priority to those smaller sized operations as they weren’t often eligible for other traditional disaster assistance or grant relief programs.”

The partnership between the Northwest Michigan SBDC and Taste the Local Difference came from funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“TLD’s goal has always been to help local farms and food businesses succeed,” Taste the Local Difference CEO Tricia Phelps said in the release. “Partnership with the SBDC and Networks Northwest is a natural fit.

“Our combined strengths create a critical support team for these entrepreneurs, with an emphasis on building capacity and strategy. We’re thrilled to be developing this important partnership when our local food businesses need it most.”

According to a release, services include:

  • Set-up of an online store
  • Email template design
  • Business to business relationship development
  • Social media strategy and content creation
  • Third-party marketing

A previous history of working with the SBDC or Taste the Local Difference is not required for application.

The release did say those accepted “will be expected to become a client of each partner organization.”

More information on the Northwest Michigan SBDC, which services 10 counties, is available at www.nwm.org/sbdc. More information on Taste the Local Difference is available at www.localdifference.org.

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