Running a food-processing business with 100-plus employees and the capacity to handle more than half a million pounds of product a week is complex. And, medium-size operations like Mary Ann’s Specialty Foods Inc. have neither the time nor the on-site expertise to explore options for dealing with all of the issues.
But they can get help. Iowa State University Extension’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) provides manufacturers with services tailored to their critical needs, ranging from process improvements and worker training to business practices and applications of information technology.
Bill and Mary Ann Korleski are owner-operators of Mary Ann’s Specialty Foods in Webster City. The company produces high-quality USDA certified products that include its own Kor-Bert products as well as pork, beef, chicken and turkey products processed for other labels. Bill Korleski first contacted CIRAS last spring when the company was considering plant renovation and options for wastewater treatment concerns.
“CIRAS conducted studies and helped give me some ideas on where we could save money as well as providing training for our employees,” Korleski said.
Derek Thompson, CIRAS account manager, worked with Korleski.
“My job is to go out and work with the manufacturers in Iowa, determine what their needs are and link them to the services and resources available at Iowa State University and with the many partners of the university,” Thompson explained.
Korleski was dealing with waste treatment issues, questions about plant renovations that would meet stringent food safety regulations and communication concerns related to having a largely Hispanic workforce.
Thompson connected Korleski with experts from Iowa State University and Iowa Central Community College, and other CIRAS partners including the University of Northern Iowa Waste Reduction Center and the Iowa Department of Economic Development. The team put Korleski in touch with contractors who were familiar with the special rules and regulations for food plants. They also helped Korleski obtain forgivable loans to fund workforce training including English as a Second Language (ESL).
“Running a business like this is a challenge. We keep our head above water, but the people from CIRAS are my legs,” Korleski said. “They run down some of this stuff when we don’t know exactly where to look.”