Thursday, July 28, 2005

Michigan Ambrosia

Jane Jacobs, in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, posits an alternate conception of economic development. She develops this theory using qualitative discussion of several instances or case studies that illustrate her points. It's fairly impressionistic and conversational, but it basically works for me -- there are many plausible methods for developing a new theory, I think.

This is not a review, however. I am using a part of her argument to discuss one of the many ideas I have about Michigan -- its culture and its economy. Cities, for Jacobs, are the origin of economic development. It is in cities (and city regions, she acknowledges, writing in 1984) that new products and processes are developed, that knowledge is shared and advanced, and that wealth is created. Perhaps the chief idea in this book is "import replacement." Basically, a party within a city or town, which imports its products, figures out how to create a particular product locally, obviating the need to import it. This could be something like nails. Where a city might do all its building with imported nails, if somebody figures out how to get their hands on an iron supply and to start up a small factory, that portion of the cost of building stays in the local economy, and the city or town takes a baby step towards self-sufficiency. (That self-sufficiency is aided in no small part by resources like iron in the surrounding "supply region," but it is not necessarily dependent upon the existence of those local resources.) Then, when that nail factory gets up and running and can even supply other towns and regions with nails, somebody might take that locally produced wealth and expand the factory into a more developed iron/steel product, or some workers who know the nail-making process might start their own factory for screws or ax-heads or shovel blades, or whatever, replacing another good that the city and region had imported. This process of developing new products is what makes cities prosperous. This can be applied to intellectual products, as well. (I won't go into discussion of many other important or interesting ideas in the book, but I could, and may at some point in the future.)

Anyway, to bring this around to the title of this post, I'm resurrecting an idea I had last summer. Basically, we develop a new soft drink that features Michigan fruit flavors (natural, NOT the synthetic equivalents) and is sweetened by sugar (or a derivative) from Michigan sugar beets. Did you know that Pioneer Sugar is based in Saginaw? You should NEVER buy Domino sugar. EVER.

Drawing on Michigan agricultural products, this spurs demand for Michigan fruit, which, aside from cherries, is languishing in competition with California fruit and foreign imports (though most Michigan products are better, I think). Actual sucrose is a better sweetener than high fructose corn syrup because HFCS-sweetened products do not give you a feeling of satiety even though you are consuming calories, so it would actually be less bad for you than Coke. In addition, these soft drinks would replace Mexican imports like Jarritos sodas (and maybe regionally-produced drinks like Coke) and would have an overall economic spur in production/manufacturing. It might also spur some food research and development of new sweeteners or other fruit-based products. Finally, the plant(s) should be located in an industrial brownfield like one might find in, say, Kalamazoo or Benton Harbor, both in or near the Michigan Fruit Belt, where paper, cigars, cars, stockings, and other manufacturing products were formerly king. Agricultural development AND urban revitalization? Where do I sign? The idea is free (and if somebody like Todd Leopold who knows beverage-making wants to drop me a line, please feel free), but if you make a million off this idea, send me 5 Gs at some point in thanks.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I wrote a Meer Macatawa post all for you! (well, partly for you, since you asked)

3:49 PM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

Good show! I saw the notice that was coming the other day.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Murph said...

Y'know, we've been meaning to try out some recipes for our homebrew kegging equipment's other potential use - pop. (Can't homebrew pop in bottles, because it's the last bit of yeast action that carbonates home-bottled stuff, but you can do either pop or beer in the kegs.)

If you can come up with a recipe, you can come over and test it with our hardware. (And if it's undrinkable, well, it can't be worse than some of the batches of hard cider we've seen. The one that tasted like bread soaked in vinegar? Yeccch.)

Also, did I tell you that, when I'm not a big development shill intern for the DDA, my other job is with a research project to inventory the food systems of southeast Michigan and the Grand Traverse area (survey research work with n=30,000 businesses or so), identify opportunities for new linkages between existing food businesses or for new food businesses to strengthen the flow of local food through local processors and distributors to local consumers, and produce feasibility studies and business plans for those opportunities?

I'll put you on the queue as an interested entrepreneur when we get around to the beverage industry.

8:40 AM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

When I was thinking about this in earnest last summer, I also came across a couple "product development" grants and loans that groups like the cherry growers association have put together to help get new products to market that will in turn spur demand for their cherries.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


The easiest thing for you to do would be to contact Kris Berglund who works at Mich State on various Michigan Fruit initiatives....including distilling. He could help you source materials, and would more than likely help you with R&D if your focus was Michigan fruit flavored product.

The easiest way to accomplish this task is to find a bottling plant. There are plenty in Michigan I am sure. These plants will contract mix and package fruit drinks/soda for numerous small companies. Using them would exponentially reduce your start up costs. All you would have to do, essentially, is come up with a package design, a recipe or three, and then find a sales rep. The bottler would handle the rest.

Once you get it going, THEN you could break off and begin manufacturing on your own.


--todd leopold

1:10 PM  
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9:31 PM  
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6:37 AM  
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6:20 AM  
Anonymous Scott T said...

Real Sugar pop is SO much better. Much of the imported stuff in glass bottles from Mexico uses real sugar. I had a real sugar Dr. Pepper when I was last in Austin ... it makes a huge difference. In the US, manufacturers switched to high fructose corn syrup because it's so cheap (due to insane and generous ag subsidies). Actually, one thing that might end up benefitting Michigan ag is an end to federal subsidies for corn (which would also help the current Doha round free trade talks and help out developing countries whose rural ag economies are destroyed by cheap, subsidized US ag imports when they open the borders for trade... but I digresss.)

And Michigan cherries are the best! I'd totally drink a tart Michigan cherry pop made with real sugar.

12:40 PM  

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