FRANKFORT, KY. – Agricultural startup AppHarvest plans to build a $50 million high-tech greenhouse, creating 140 full-time jobs in Pikeville at a surface coal mine site repurposed for new industry, Gov. Matt Bevin announced today.
“AppHarvest’s project will bring exciting, high-tech job opportunities to Eastern Kentucky,” Bevin said. “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.”
Targeted for a 60-acre site, AppHarvest’s 2 million square-foot greenhouse will rank among the world’s largest, according to a press release. There, the company plans to grow fresh vegetables year-round for consumption on the U.S. East Coast 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, cutting-edge hydroponic, above-ground growing systems.
The company plans to build an entire employee campus on site. The AppHarvest team is committed to developing a vibrant culture–a “rocking hub of innovation”–instead of just a place to clock in and clock out, according to the release. From staff-created playlists streaming throughout the 2 million square foot facility to a cafeteria providing fresh plant-based smoothies, and a co-working lab fully equipped with computers, laptops and books–AppHarvest’s greenhouse will be a vehicle for new opportunity in Appalachia and beyond.
“The spirit of the region is unmatched and we want to work alongside those hardworking men and women,” Webb said. “Our goal is to help our employees reach their dreams. During off hours, we will encourage them to develop their own start-up ideas. Advisers will be on-campus to work with the employees. We will also distribute micro-loans and encourage community development in the surrounding areas. What's good for the people of Appalachia is good for AppHarvest.”
AppHarvest Founder and CEO Jonathan Webb cited Pikeville’s proximity to retail markets, quality of the regional workforce and opportunities created as the coal industry evolves as reasons for locating in Eastern Kentucky.
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 borders lie within a day’s drive of 65 percent of the U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Michael Chasen is currently the CEO of PrecisionHawk and was responsible for growing Blackboard Inc from two employees to over 3,000 before guiding them to a $1.6 billion sale in 2011. When asked about AppHarvest, Chasen said, "Jonathan has developed a winning strategy and has assembled the right team to build one of the largest produce companies east of the Mississippi River. I'm excited to see AppHarvest roll out its vision in Appalachia."
Eastern Kentucky has a workforce ready for new opportunities and that AppHarvest will be a great fit, said Sen. Ray Jones of Pikeville.
“Eastern Kentucky is continually seeking ways to diversify and attract much-needed jobs to our region,” he said. “Many of our people lost their jobs because of the decline in the coal industry. Our region stands ready with a willing and skilled workforce to meet this company’s needs. We are pleased that AppHarvest is locating in our region and look forward to their success, along with the economic boost they will bring to Eastern Kentucky.”
To encourage investment and job growth in the community, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) preliminarily approved the company for tax incentives up to $2.5 million through the Kentucky Business Investment program. This 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 in a variety of industry sectors.