The town of South Boston soon will boast an industrial hemp processing facility that is the first of its kind in Virginia.

Late Thursday afternoon, the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority officially announced that it had reached a performance agreement with the hemp processing company, Blue Ribbon Extraction, to open a plant at the former Blue Ridge Beverage Company building at 2525 Houghton Drive. Blue Ribbon Extraction plans to start production at the South Boston plant in the fall.

“We look forward to partnering with farmers to establish a local market for a new agricultural crop right here at home in Halifax County. We currently have 1.2 million pounds of hemp under contract with farmers for the 2020 growing season,” said Blue Ribbon Extraction’s Co-Chief Executive Officer Sterling Edmunds Jr., in a news release sent to The Gazette-Virginian by IDA executive director Brian Brown.

County officials previously had referred to the long awaited announcement as “Project Phoenix.” The project had been in the works since August 2019. The agreement between Blue Ribbon Extraction and the IDA anticipates bringing more than 40 full-time jobs to Halifax County, through its investment of more than $5 million, according to the IDA news release.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also made an official announcement regarding the hemp processing facility on Thursday afternoon.

“Encouraging the development of new markets for Virginia farmers is one of our top priorities for growing the commonwealth’s agricultural economy,” Northam said, in his news release on the announcement. “I am pleased to see that industrial hemp continues to create opportunity and economic vibrancy in rural Virginia, and I congratulate Halifax County, Blue Ribbon Extraction and all other partners involved in bringing this important new processing capacity to our Commonwealth.”

Blue Ribbon Extraction is securing contracts with local hemp farmers and has agreed to purchase $71 million or 3,079,415 pounds of agricultural product over a three-year timeframe.

Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring commented on the significance of the South Boston facility to the industrial hemp industry in Virginia overall, in the news release issued by Gov. Northam’s office.

“There has been tremendous growth in Virginia’s industrial hemp industry, creating new opportunities for rural communities to thrive,” Ring said. “By locating this large processing facility in an emerging geographic center of industrial hemp production, Blue Ribbon Extraction will create a local market for the crop, addressing one of the biggest challenges currently facing the industrial hemp industry in Virginia.”

Edmunds and Blue Ribbon Extraction’s president Steve Mize, both Halifax County natives, shared their enthusiasm about opening the hemp processing plant at a Halifax County IDA board meeting Friday morning.

“We’ve got 75 farmers that have signed up for our first year. We’re excited about it,” Edmunds said. He added that Blue Ribbon is committed to its investment in Halifax County and has a track record for investing in rural communities.

Mize told the IDA board that the hemp production facility would produce ripple effects in Halifax County, stimulating the economy.

“We’re thrilled to be here because the attitude is in this area, if the farmers go back to work, everybody goes back to work,” Mize said. “The revenue that we produce is nothing compared to the revenue that’s out there in the community.”

At Friday’s meeting, Edmunds and Mize also introduced Patricia Walker, who will manage the hemp processing plant in South Boston, and Mize’s assistant, Jennifer Ginn. Walker shared that she is a Halifax County native and former ABB employee.

Blue Ribbon Extraction’s Co-Chief Executive Officer Rick Gregory was unable to attend Friday’s meeting, but commented in the IDA news release on the local investments that are helping the start-up hemp processing facility.

“With the support of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, the County Administrator, the Halifax County IDA and the South Boston IDA, Blue Ribbon is off to a great start,” Gregory said. “Approximately $10 million primarily raised from private sources will be invested in bringing this project to reality for southern Virginia.”

Brown also highlighted the role that local and regional partnerships played in securing Blue Ribbon Extraction’s investment in Halifax County.

“The willingness to collaborate has been incredible. The partnerships and assistance provided by the partners is the reason for this successful project,” said Brown, in the IDA news release. “This has truly been a team effort, and I believe this project will serve as an example of the success we can have together.”

The Halifax County IDA is purchasing the building that will house the hemp processing facility for $1.7 million, and an additional $1.5 million will be spent upfitting the facility for operations. The IDA has secured bank financing of $2.35 million for the project. A $250,000 grant from the Agribusiness Committee of the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission was secured earlier this year to assist with building improvement. The Halifax County Board of Supervisors provided $150,000 in grant resources to the project to cover improvements necessary for operation of the facility.

“Our local and regional farmers are the winners today, Blue Ribbon Extraction has committed to purchase 3.3 million pounds of hemp over the next 3 years, this equates to $77,000,000 which will be come back to our local farmers and growers,” said Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson, in the IDA news release. “The production of CBD oil and the many other products to be derived from hemp over time make this a huge win for Halifax. I look forward to their building upfit and to see the process firsthand.”

In addition to the county’s investment, the town of South Boston stepped in and offered the IDA a $300,000 10-year loan to cover the remaining cost of the building upfit.

South Boston town manager Tom Raab, commented at Friday’s meeting, “I think this is probably the first time in my 44 years here that the two IDA’s (Halifax County and South Boston) have worked together. We want to continue to work with the IDA to move forward…This is a good situation. Things are positive.”

IDA board member Nancy Pool added that the hemp processing facility is a “win-win” for Halifax County and a wonderful partnership between the IDA and the agricultural community.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.