Halifax County will seek $250,000 from the Virginia Tobacco Commission to help launch a privately-owned hemp processing facility in the county.

The investors, Halifax County natives Sterling Edmunds Jr. and Rick Gregory, both of whom have gone on to successful careers in finance, are pledging matching funds of $6,350,000 from the private venture, code named Project Phoenix.

In the grant request to the tobacco commission, county officials estimate the hemp processing operation will create 41 direct jobs and “hundreds of ancillary jobs” in the first three years.

Brian Brown, executive director of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, said Tuesday that he could divulge few details about the venture.

“All I can say is that they’re looking at an existing building” for the operation, said Brown.

The goal, he added, is to have it open within a year.

“Hopefully we can announce something in the near future,” he said.

In the grant application to the agribusiness committee of the Tobacco Commission, officials lay out hemp’s potential as a major cash crop for Southside Virginia, but also describe catch-up efforts to match hemp’s rise in adjoining states. With its agricultural profile and infrastructure, “nowhere is better positioned to take advantage than Virginia’s Tobacco Region.

“However, the crop’s economics are reliant on nearby commercial-scale processing facilities of which none currently exist in the proposed service area. Meanwhile, North Carolina is investing rapidly,” the request notes.

The Project Phoenix hemp processing facility is projected to purchase $50 million in hemp in three years to meet the demand of an exploding market for CBD oil — used primarily for health and cosmetic products such as oils, salves and creams.

“Extracting CBD requires an industrial process in a purpose-built facility. Without nearby extraction capacity, a hemp crop is worthless. With it, farmer revenue can be over $30,000 /acre on investment of $12,000 /acre,” the request states.

Project Phoenix will purchase direct from area farmers and export to purchasers of extract, creating a Halifax County-based pipeline that will support growers in a seven-county region from Nottoway to Pittsylvania, according to the filing by the Halifax County IDA.

With the legalization of hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill, a rising number of tobacco farmers in the region have begun raising the crop, a cousin to marijuana without the drug-inducing effects. Unlike marijuana, hemp is very low in THC, the active ingredient in its cannabis cousin.

Halifax County leaders have made landing a hemp processing facility a priority, especially with the rise of competition in North Carolina. The nearest hemp processing facility is located in Oxford, N.C., and it is maxxed out processing hemp grown in the state, the grant request notes.

Edmunds and Gregory, the listed partners in the venture, are described in the application as “successful entrepreneurs with decades of experience in family farming businesses, banking, law, economic development projects and financial investments.”

Edmunds, who has a residence in Clarksville, was unavailable for comment.

In accompanying information with the tobacco grant request, the extensive business and civic backgrounds of both principals is described in detail.

A Halifax native, Edmunds rose after graduation from University of Richmond to become President and Chief Executive Officer of SunTrust Mortgage Corporation. He began his career as Finance Manager of the Virginia Housing Development Authority.

He later joined Edmunds Private Capital, LLC, a privately held money management firm headquartered in Richmond, as a Managing Director in 2013.

Edmunds is a past Chairman of the Residential Board of Governors of the National Mortgage Bankers Association in Washington, DC and formerly led its Wholesale, Production and Legislative Committees.

Gregory, after graduation from Halifax County Senior High School, attended the University of Virginia School of Architecture and the College of William and Mary, Marshall-Wythe School of Law.

He has more than three decades of experience in real estate law, investments, finance, real estate development and asset management. In 2001, Gregory founded Lynx Ventures, which is focused on bringing innovative economic development projects to Virginia.

Gregory was recently appointed to the Board of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), Virginia’s economic development authority that invests over $100 million annually into housing and community development projects.

No timetable has been set for the Tobacco Commission to review the Halifax County grant application, said the IDA’s Brown.

Along with the IDA and private partners, the venture is expected to draw the involvement of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville and Virginia Tech.

From The News and Record