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Hemp processing operation coming to Canton

Abundant Labs CEO Chip Miller (left) and Haywood Chamber President CeCe Hipps announce Miller’s new endeavor in Canton. Abundant Labs CEO Chip Miller (left) and Haywood Chamber President CeCe Hipps announce Miller’s new endeavor in Canton. Cory Vaillancourt photo

Haywood County’s latest economic development victory — a state-of-the-art, $12 million hemp processing facility — means that Canton will become among the first local municipalities to cash in on the new “green” economy.

“We looked at where we’re involved in the cultivation process, which is all the surrounding states including the eastern part of North Carolina, and we saw what happened with the hurricanes last year, coming up through Louisiana and Georgia. There’s been some crop issues in Kentucky over the last couple of years, so we felt that if we can put ourselves in a central location, with regard to all of those, then we would be in position to produce a better product,” said Chip Miller, CEO of Abundant Labs.

Abundant Labs extracts cannabinoids from the cola of the cannabis plant to produce extracts used in consumer products, like Cannabidiol, and will by Aug. 1 begin doing so in the old Neo Corporation building on Silkwood Drive, just off Interstate 40. Although not technically within municipal limits, adjacent parcels border the Town of Canton.

Known more commonly as CBD, Cannabidiol is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant reported to hold myriad health benefits. The Farm Bill passed by Congress late last year removed obstacles to growing non-psychoactive cannabis, called hemp, across the nation. North Carolina is one of more than 30 states that also permits cultivation of the plant.

According to Forbes, the retail CBD market nationwide in 2018 was somewhere between $600 million and $2 billion, but could grow to more than $16 billion in the next six years.

During an announcement ceremony at BearWaters Brewing in Canton co-sponsored by the Haywood County Economic Development Council and the Haywood Chamber of Commerce held, Miller said that the company would initially employ between 20 and 25 workers processing between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds of biomass each day, six days a week, on two shifts.

“If we’re successful, we could go as high as 55 or 60,” said Miller. “It just depends on what the needs are.”

Miller said that currently, there are six different job descriptions outside of management, most of which are what he would call skilled jobs.

“Some of our hourly [pay] ranges could get up into the $20s,” he said.

Canton has a long history of taking agricultural products, using skilled labor to process them and adding value to them, and then selling them to customers around the country and the world.

Abundant Labs will be a business-to-business operation, meaning its products won’t be available at retail outlets under its own name. Other hemp-related businesses who create retail products will be its customers.

“What this is, you’re seeing the 21st century model of manufacturing. With the state and also at the federal level, an opportunity has arisen with hemp to get it to market,” said Canton Mayor Zeb Smathers. “Whatever product that may be, it takes that manufacturing base to do that, that trained workforce.”

According to Abundant Labs’ website, the company is “always looking for sources of biomass,” meaning local and regional growers might be able to cash in as well.

Haywood Chamber of Commerce Board Member John Patterson, an insurance agent specializing in agricultural products, says that could give local growers a boost.

“Right now, one of my clients has been taking all the biomass they’ve been growing, and shipping it to a processor elsewhere,” said Patterson. “Having a processor in the state of North Carolina will not only allow us to bring in product from other states, but it will allow hemp growers, at least in this half of the state, to have a processor that’s probably more cost effective.”

Miller said he expects the facility to begin processing hemp by Aug. 1 at the latest.

This is the first major announcement since Haywood and Buncombe signed a contract to work together in seeking economic development opportunities.

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