MURRAY — In recent weeks, it has been Murray State University diving deep into the newly-legalized crop industrial hemp with the formation of a new hemp research center for the Hutson School of Agriculture.
Tuesday afternoon, the Murray area learned that its first hemp-related business was coming to the community.
In a press release from the office of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin came the announcement that Fibonacci LLC will locate a HempWood manufacturing operation in Calloway County. This comprises a $5.8 million investment that is expected to create 25 full-time jobs. Bevin’s office said production is expected to begin this summer at an 11,230-square-foot facility that Fibonacci will lease.
“It’s a good deal for this community,” said Dr. Tony Brannon, dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture at Murray State, noting that this will be the first such operation of its kind anywhere within the confines of the United States. “And it’s one of the only operations going that is committed to using the fiber of the hemp plant.”
Brannon said he has been in contact with Fibonacci’s owner, Greg Wilson, about this project.
“What I’ve come to know about him is that he is very committed to what he’s doing. He’s very thorough. He also is widely connected,” Brannon said. “He started in China and he’s had quite a journey getting to this point. He had his equipment built in China, then that was met by a big tariff. Then he had a piece of equipment malfunction that required a repair that was quite hefty.
“Most everybody facing what he did probably would’ve quit, but he’s kept it going, and when the time came for him to try this (in the U.S.), he was looking at possible locations, and he told me that Murray checked every box.”
In the governor’s office release, Wilson said HempWood is a renewable alternative to oak. The release said Wilson formed the company in March 2018 after 13 years of experience in the wood products industry. The release added that HempWood can be used in products ranging from flooring to furniture, even finding use for woodworking projects and culinary serving boards.
“We’re thrilled to be the first in the country to have this,” said Murray-Calloway County Economic Development Corporation President Mark Manning. “What I like about this is that Wilson knows a lot about the flooring industry. This is also looking at the fiber of the plant, not the oil, which is something more and more places are dealing with.
“By using the fiber, there is going to be less competition, and I think that means they’ll be able to get better prices.”
Bevin said Tuesday’s announcement shows how Kentucky is on the move when it comes to hemp.
“The commonwealth’s burgeoning hemp industry is quickly gaining national attention, and this exciting project will significantly intensify that spotlight,” he said in the release. “This hardwood alternative opens up new possibilities within the construction and woodworking industries and emphasizes the capabilities hemp has across numerous sectors. We are grateful to Greg Wilson and Fibonacci LLC for locating the United States’ first HempWood operation in Kentucky, and we look forward to the powerful impact the company will have on the region’s economy and the overall industry.”
The fact that jobs were involved pleased Murray Mayor Bob Rogers.
“I’m always glad to see new jobs come here. People need jobs and I’m sure they’ll be trying to get them at this new place,” said Rogers, who said he began to hear rumblings of something hemp-related in the works a few months ago. “It was actually right as I took office (in early January), but I really wasn’t able to deal with it much.
“Now that I’m seeing what this is about, I’m very interested to see what’s going to happen with it. I’m going to be anxious to see how this tuns out. I’ve heard, and many others have as well, that hemp is the next big thing. We may start finding that out.”
Brannon said production of hemp is particularly strong in far-western Kentucky, which is where 800 tons of the material that Fibonacci will use is originating.
“In Graves, Marshall and Calloway counties alone, we have 10,000 acres being farmed,” he said. “That is from 64 growers.”
Calloway County Judge-Executive Kenny Imes said his family grew hemp before World War II on a farm just north of Murray. He said he is glad to see the crop produce economic development opportunity in his home area.
“(Wilson) could’ve gone anywhere with this. That he decided to bring it here, I think speaks volumes to what we offer here, as well as with our available work force. This is going to get people’s attention,” Imes said.