Silverbow Honey Partners with CBTECH

Posted on Sep 30, 2015

Honeyopathy from Silverbow Honey during the Trade Mission with the Gunpo Sister City
Honeyopathy from Silverbow Honey during the Trade Mission with the Gunpo Sister City.

"It's been a great partnership," Matt Ferguson, Chief Operating Officer of Silverbow Honey, says of working with the Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center, or CBTECH. "We're on the cusp of some major successes."
Ferguson has been COO of Silverbow Honey for about a year. The company operates a 38,000 square foot facility on Wheeler Road in Moses Lake. Ferguson has a growth vision for the company, including moving from "conventional to natural" to not only "survive, but to thrive." "Have to look where our unique niche is," he explains. The natural market has been growing every year, according to Ferguson, and the company just landed an account with Whole Foods of the northwest for products called "honeyopathy." That is honey mixed with other elixirs for natural cures.
But, Ferguson says, "Talk to the typical resident of Moses Lake and they don't know" Silverbow Honey is there. "That, to me, is unacceptable." So, Ferguson started looking for a way to connect with the community. Also, since getting out of the military, Ferguson hasn't felt like he was "giving back" and was looking for a way to do that. Ferguson was seeking a way to help his company and was introduced to Allan Peterson at the Small Business Development Center at the Grant County EDC. Peterson is an advisor to the entrepreneurial program at CBTECH. "That's a great fit," Peterson explains of Silverbow Honey and CBTECH.
Ferguson explains, "Allan facilitated a meeting between myself and Vance Frost and we hit it off. I said, 'How can I get involved?' I can work with this organization and can work with where they're going."
"To be a regional brand you have to invest in the community and he's doing that," says Frost, a teacher at CBTECH.
The company has worked with the Culinary Arts students at CBTECH in addition to the entrepreneurial and manufacturing students. The culinary students helped develop a line of spicy honey and that will be going to market. "That's a tangible result the kids can look at that they built from the ground floor and they will see in the marketplace," Ferguson explains.
"It's been a great relationship for both," Peterson says.
Frost agrees. "It's a great relationship." After 17 years in the private sector, Frost teaches marketing and design at CBTECH. He points out that the goal of the entire school is to collaborate all classes with industry. "Matt Ferguson is a good example of collaboration," Frost says. The students can get hands-on skills at the center, but, Frost points out, real world experience is a whole different thing. The students "listen to industry partners better than the teachers," he says. Students can learn from a textbook and hands-on exercises, but the "big piece is when an industry partner comes in. The big growth comes with working with a real entity." Working on real-world projects "gives them the opportunity to feel stressors and we teach them to handle those." The students "enjoy it once they've seen the fruits of their labors."
"I like the soft skills," Ferguson says of the CBTECH students. "Every kid looks you in the eye, shakes your hand, and says 'Yes, sir' or 'No, sir.'"
"Industry is not going to be here without a return," Frost explains. When an industry partner comes in with a problem, the students will break off into teams. Then those teams will present their ideas and the best one will be developed. "It doesn't matter who finds the solution for the customer," Frost says, "it's that we found the solution."
Partners for CBTECH are chosen on a "case-by-case" basis, Frost explains. "What does it benefit the student?" CBTECH will finish with one partner and move on to the next, Frost says. And they want to make sure there's "no harm." "No one walked out of the relationship harmed," Frost says. "Different people come to this building all the time. Everyone is here for the greater good of the students."
Of Vance Frost, Ferguson says, "He's a good man—a great educator. I haven't met someone who pours his heart and soul into the kids" as Frost does. "I wish my kids had an instructor like him."
Also Silverbow Honey is working with CBTECH on a line of "Silverbow Select" to be sold locally. The students are developing the logo and packaging of a "premium local honey." If everything works out, the line will come out in the fall. "I think that's doable," Ferguson says. "It's just negotiating the details."
"What I like about working with the kids is we're all a product of our experiences. They have no preconceived notions. So they think outside the box," says Ferguson. Frost agrees. "Neat thing about kids is they don't know 'no.'"
"I'd rather have a room full of those kids from CBTECH than a room full of consultants from D.C.," he adds. "We would not have facilitated the growth in our product lines as it's been done" without the CBTECH students. "They were a catalyst for facilitating my vision of this company," Ferguson says. "We just knew this was a good collaboration. Sometimes in business you have to go with your gut."
Peterson says the students gave a presentation to Ferguson "that blew him away."
Ferguson hopes to expand Silverbow Honey outside of being a regional company. "Need to not only look in your own backyard, you need to look outward." Ferguson spent ten years in Asia in the military and wants to export there. "There's 1.2 billion potential customers right there." He says Moses Lake is an ideal place for the company with the major east-west corridor running through town and close access to I-5 and Pacific ports.
"It's exciting to see a 50-year-old company that's hardly known in its own town getting inquiries from around the world," Peterson says.
"I'm excited for the future of this company," Ferguson concluded. "It's exciting because every day is different. I'm not bored."