Agricultural startup AppHarvest will build a $50 million high-tech greenhouse, creating 140 full-time jobs in Pikeville, KY at a former surface coal mine repurposed for new industry.
AppHarvest Founder and CEO Jonathan Webb sited Pikeville’s proximity to retail markets, quality of the regional workforce and opportunities created as the coal industry transitions as reasons for locating in Eastern Kentucky.
“The spirit of the region is unmatched and we want to work alongside those hardworking men and women,” Webb said. “Appalachia, let’s grow veggies, let’s do work!”
Targeted for a 60-acre site, AppHarvest’s 2 million square-foot greenhouse will rank among the world’s largest. There, the company plans to grow fresh vegetables year round for consumption in the U.S. Northeast, Southeast and Midwest. The operation will grow a variety of produce with a focus on cherry tomatoes and bell peppers. The high-tech facility will feature computerized monitoring and cutting-edge hydroponic, above-ground growing systems.
“AppHarvest’s project will bring exciting, high-tech job opportunities to Eastern Kentucky,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “Our administration is dedicated to increasing economic opportunity across Kentucky, and this project presents a fantastic opportunity to help our Appalachian region continue its rejuvenation. We intend to make Kentucky the engineering and manufacturing center of excellence in America, and job growth in Eastern Kentucky will be a key part of our success.”
Building near its markets will significantly reduce shipping costs, Webb said, and also lower costs for consumers. As a gateway between the Midwest and South, Kentucky’s boarders lie within a day’s drive of 65 percent of the US population and income. That continues to make the commonwealth a major draw for logistics-intensive companies.
Webb has supported U.S. Army Office of Energy Initiatives’ efforts with private financing and development of some of the largest solar projects in the Southeast. He recently founded AppHarvest to provide a local, more logistically feasible option in response to US produce imports from Mexico tripling over the past decade.
AppHarvest employees will be trained in agronomy and agricultural science. Positions include management, human resources, logistics and picker/crop worker. Webb said he expects greenhouse construction to begin in June.
The company’s greenhouse environment will provide dramatic yield increases versus traditional field and low-tech greenhouse operations and allow it to adjust to customers’ needs and demands, as well as provide a longer shelf life for produce.
AppHarvest’s project stands to benefit the state on multiple fronts, according to Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
“Agriculture is economic development, and this facility would bring much-needed investment and jobs to Eastern Kentucky,” said Commissioner Quarles. “This project would capitalize on increasing demand for U.S.-grown produce, technical innovation, the opportunity to recapture market share from beyond our borders, and an available workforce. This is an exciting opportunity that could change the economic trajectory of the entire region for decades to come.”
Pikeville Mayor James Carter said the community has worked endlessly to make opportunities like this possible.
“The City of Pikeville has worked diligently throughout the past several years to develop and market Kentucky’s newest first-class industrial park. Today’s announcement by Governor Bevin authorizing the enhanced incentives through the Kentucky Business Investment program will allow us to continue our work,” said Carter. “AppHarvest’s interest to locate their new and amazing aquaculture project within the boundaries of our park is a fantastic next step. This will not only create greatly needed jobs for Eastern Kentucky, but will be another example of a major investment that will allow us to diversify our economy while creating new jobs and a sustainable business model here in Pikeville. The new state incentives that are now in place provide us with the opportunity to move into our next phase of negotiating with the intent to finalize a land and development contract for AppHarvest as our newest tenant with the park.”
To encourage the investment and job growth in the community, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority in February preliminarily approved the company for tax incentives up to $2.5 million through the Kentucky Business Investment program. The performance-based incentive allows a company to keep a portion of its investment over the agreement term through corporate income tax credits and wage assessments by meeting job and investment targets.
In addition, AppHarvest can receive resources from the Kentucky Skills Network. Through the Kentucky Skills Network, companies can receive no-cost recruitment and job placement services, reduced-cost customized training and job training incentives. In fiscal 2016, the Kentucky Skills Network provided training for nearly 95,000 Kentuckians and 5,000 companies from a variety of industry sectors.
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