As a Certified Economic Development Organization for Luzerne County, CAN DO has assisted companies in preparing grant applications that have resulted in local companies obtaining millions of dollars in funding for expansions and upgrades at their facilities. Although this process usually takes months to complete, CAN DO staff worked diligently to help Milkhouse Creamery LLC prepare an application in just two weeks that resulted in a $318,000 grant for the local dairy company.
The grant funding was available through the Pennsylvania Dairy Investment Program, an initiative started by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe in 2017 to support Pennsylvania’s dairy industry. The grant was available for diary businesses who needed funding for expansions or equipment purchases. The second round of grant funding announced earlier this year expanded the program’s eligible uses to now include activities for research and development, organic transition, value-added processing and marketing in support of Pennsylvania’s dairy industry, which is one of the Commonwealth’s largest industry sectors.
Milkhouse Creamery co-owner Paul Dagostin’s maternal grandfather, Michael, and his family started Pecora’s Dairy in the 1940s in Sugarloaf Township. His paternal grandfather, father and mother started Will-O-Bett Farms together, where they bottled milk and started making homemade ice cream in the mid-1970s.
Dagostin wanted to bring his family’s creamery roots together, revive the ice cream making and turn it into a business and that’s how Milkhouse Creamery began several years ago.
At the time the company applied for the PA Dairy Investment grant, Milkhouse Creamery was operating their original retail and production location in Bowl Arena in West Hazleton and a second store along Route 309 in Mountaintop. However, the company was quickly outgrowing its space inside Bowl Arena and wanted to move the actual ice cream making operation to a new location. Dagostin’s son-in-law, Erik Maselkevich, approached State Rep. Tarah Toohil looking for funding options.
Toohil gathered officials from CAN DO, the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress for a meeting to see what could be done. During the meeting, Toohil mentioned this grant and, as part of CAN DO’s initiative to help small businesses and entrepreneurs in Greater Hazleton, CAN DO staff jumped into action. However, they quickly discovered that applications were due in just two weeks. Although it usually takes as much as three months to gather all the necessary information and prepare a grant application, CAN DO’s staff worked quickly to make sure Milkhouse Creamery could meet the deadline.
Maselkevich said CAN DO’s staff researched the grant, helped him coordinate with the Small Business Development Center at Wilkes University to gather an extensive amount of information on machinery costs, worked with him to develop a detailed business plan and prepared the grant application before the deadline.
The $318,000 grant helped Milkhouse Creamery purchase and install a variety of equipment, including pasteurization vats, a homogenizer, a cooling press, a Clean in Place sanitization machine and a new ice cream making machine. As a result of the grant, Milkhouse Creamery was able to hire an additional 10 employees for its production and retail areas of the Sugarloaf Township location. In addition to its current operations of making ice cream and bottling iced tea, Milkhouse Creamery is in the process of purchasing and installing more equipment that will allow the company to bottle and sell its own milk again.
Maselkevich praised CAN DO’s staff for guiding him through the application process and working quickly to have everything together to meet the deadline.
“I couldn’t have done this without CAN DO. If it wasn’t for what CAN DO did and what the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania wanted to do for dairies, there would have been no way we could do this,” he said. “We’re excited to have this back for the community. We love doing this. We missed tasting ice cream that was made like this.”
Maselkevich, who worked primarily with CAN DO Director of Economic Development Jocelyn Sterenchock, said the whole process has been a learning experience and he encourages other businesses to reach out to CAN DO for help.
“CAN DO wants to see businesses thrive and grow. They really know what it’s all about and will get you the right information that you need” he said. “Jocelyn has a mind like a computer and made sure every “I” was dotted and every “T” was crossed. Every step of the way, she extended a helping hand. Any time I had problems, she always had someone she could reach out to for help. I can’t stress enough what she’s done for us. She has a passion and cares about the businesses.”
Dagostin added that, in addition to the support Milkhouse Creamery has received from the entire Greater Hazleton community, it was “a pleasure” for him and his team to work with an organization like CAN DO that wanted to help. “They were excellent. Any business looking to grow or expand should talk to them,” he said.