About a year and a half ago, two professors from F&M released a report on Lancaster’s poverty problems.
The rate is about 29%; you can find data like this at the US Census bureau or through cool tools like PolicyMap, which also gives very refined views of neighborhood statistics.
Before we started The Lancaster Food Company in 2013, I spent some time on PolicyMap to try to figure out where we should locate the company. It’s a lofty goal–try to reduce poverty by hiring people living under the line who live within walking distance, and there isn’t a lot of real estate available in the city for food manufacturing.
Some of the highest poverty rates were right around South Water Street and Hazel. So we looked very closely at a few buildings when we started. We passed on the building that became Spring House’s third location. It’s a very cool building, but it needed a lot of work and we’re not developers. The property itself is two acres, and has a remarkable view of the city from its north side.
We ended up leasing a space completely inappropriate for food manufacturing, but we were eager to see whether we could prove our concept could become a viable company in the increasingly competitive certified organic food sector.
|Liberty St space before the buildout|
So we took a space at 341 East Liberty, complete with flaws and obstructions, and made it work. We invested in a conversion of the space with a loan from Community First Fund (the landlord would not finance a buildout for a startup), passed our USDA Certified Organic and FDA & PDA inspections, and literally took our products to market. Things really took off–we grew 30% every quarter until March of this year, when we hit production capacity.
We knew early on we’d need to expand, so we continued to look for space while growing the company at Liberty.
We also looked at Lot 13 across the street, and asked for the most recent environmental report. Again, very high levels of lead, benzene, and some other harmful chemicals. We would have had to remediate the site, which isn’t currently part of our mission, so we passed.
Later this week I’ll post Part II about the space that almost was, and what we eventually landed on. It’s been a long, challenging process that almost killed the company.