Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories on the growing hemp market and its effect on Georgetown and Kentucky.

If Kentucky is considered the center of a growing industrial hemp market, then Georgetown may very well be in the epicenter of it.

Since the beginning of the year, multiple projected hemp-related businesses have bought land in the Lanes Run Business Park. And at the forefront of the blossoming industry is a cutting-edge Australian industrial hemp company, Ecofibre, which will be building a hemp black facility at the Georgetown business park.

“Weather permitting, we should be done around April of 2020. The state and city have been wonderful in helping us get approval,” said Eric Wang, CEO and managing director. “We expect to employ 70-100 people.”

Ecofibre is a publicy traded company, and globally is the second largest hemp company in the world based on market capitalization. It has three business units in addition to its hemp black division: Ananda Food, Ananda Hemp and Ananda Professional. By virtue of its divisions, Ecofibre uses the whole hemp plant at its various facilities, creating a market for hemp growers.

“In Australia and the United States, we contract with growers, who can grow as much as they want, but there has to be a market it for it,” Wang said. “We are a product and solution company that looks at finding ways to create the product farmers are producing. We want growers, so we create a demand for their product.”

People in Kentucky are familiar with CBD products using hemp oil. The Ananda Hemp division focuses on that use of the plant and the market that came about after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized industrial hemp. The bill also clarified the definition of hemp, which had been limited to fiber and seed, to include the entire plant, specifically the floral parts and the cannabinoids derived from it.

Hemp black is truly cutting edge, using its conductive fibers and carbonizing them to be used in a variety of ways.

“In terms of conductivity, people have used copper, which is very heavy, expensive and not sustainable,” Wang said. “But hemp can also create conductive fibers and they can be used in textiles. They can also be used in anti-microbial textiles, which is usually made from silver salt, also expensive to make and                       not sustainable.

“We can use hemp black in any format we want too. An entire office can be made from hemp black products.”

A video on Ecofibre’s website touts how hemp black is revolutionary. It can be used in clothing that is moisture wicking, anti-microbial, thermo-regulating, can be used in wallets and purses to make them RFID shields that protect phones and credit card information from being scanned from outside sources and include sensor performance tracking inside the clothing for runners and health reasons.

Local leaders are excited to see the interest hemp companies have in coming to Georgetown and how that is diversifying the county’s economy.

“We are blessed to have automative-related jobs, but diversification is exciting,” said Joe Pat Covington, Scott County judge-executive. “We need businesses that bring a different sector to the table, and any chance to recruit agriculture related firms and business opportunities, that is where we need to go.

“These are high-paying technical jobs now in our community and tied to our local agriculture community as well. That is a stream for potential revenues for local farmers and is an opportunity that now is a reality in our community.”

Jack Conner, executive director of Scott United, said Ecofibre is a perfect match for Georgetown.

“This new project for our community is the ‘right fit’ for our economic development strategy of diversifying our local economy,” he said. “In fact, we believe that Ecofibre will become a viable catalyst for additional non-automotive sector businesses and hemp related projects.”

“The companies we have recruited are on the cutting edge for researching uses for hemp,” said Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather. “It can be used in furniture to dissipate static rather than requiring copper threads that is extracted. They are so many applications for it and the potential scientific uses are just staggering.”

Because of the sustainable and eco-friendly uses of hemp, Wang said the Georgetown site will walk the talk the company touts and its location is ideal to be in the middle of hemp’s expansion.

“The building will be LEED platinum, the first one of the new versions in Kentucky, and use geothermal and solar,” he said. “A lot of the materials in the building will be hemp black.

“A lot of people care about being sustainable and won’t work with companies that don’t use renewable sources. Hemp is a carbon negative product because of how it is grown and transported. How far the hemp is grown from the plant is important to us. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to say you are sustainable and using renewable sources if the hemp spends days on the road being transported farm to the plant. That’s why we set about a 90-mile radius to transport the hemp to the plant.”

It is the plant’s versatility and being a renewable source that really excites and drives Wang and his colleagues.

“The hemp plant has a remarkable set of properties that can be used in anything,” Wang said, mentioning it as a food and healing source. “There is a shortage of quality protein globally. In third world countries, there is a market and need to be educated on using hemp for food. It has a wonderful taste profile. It tastes nutty and is non-allergen. You can bake it into pasta, make it into a flour, sprinkle on salads or use as a binding agent. CBD is popular because people know it works and helps them feel better. How many adults have pain, anxiety and trouble sleeping? The majority of the patients using it are over 40 and they want to work and watch their kids.

“The world needs a more sustainable source and hemp should have a place.”

Steve McClain can be reached at smcclain@news-graphic.com.

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