Jackson greenhouse passes state scrutiny, gets $1.5M in state funding

2013-06-21T00:00:00Z 2013-07-17T07:30:06Z Jackson greenhouse passes state scrutiny, gets $1.5M in state fundingBy LEAH TODD Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A business start-up proposing a three-story hydroponics greenhouse in downtown Jackson received the final go-ahead for $1.5 million in state funds Thursday.

The State Loan and Investment Board voted 3-1 to approve a business committed grant for the town of Jackson to support Vertical Harvest, the low-profit, limited liability company behind the greenhouse. Vertical Harvest plans to grow 75,000 pounds of tomatoes, lettuce and micro-greens year-round on a town-owned lot next to a parking garage in the city’s center. Aside from a team of three managers, Vertical Harvest plans to employ mostly developmentally disabled people. It will sell its produce in-house and to local restaurants and grocery stores.

Nearly an hour of discussion preceded the board’s vote. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill, who phoned into the board meeting in Cheyenne, was the project’s lone nay voice. Gov. Matt Mead, State Auditor Cynthia Cloud and State Treasurer Mark Gordon voted in favor of the grant; Secretary of State Max Maxfield, acting as chairman, did not vote.

“It is production agriculture feeding tourism,” Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, said as she spoke in support of the project. “This is not a social program. But I hope we won’t discount these jobs because they’re for a certain segment of our population.“

SLIB staff recommended against the project, saying the business did not create enough high-paying jobs to warrant the $1.5 million in public funds. Supporters touted the project’s potential to decrease Wyoming’s dependency on food imports and create jobs for an underemployed disabled community in Jackson.

The Wyoming Business Council voted 8-7 last month to recommend the state fund the project.

Vertical Harvest co-founder Penny McBride said after Thursday's meeting that her first phone call would be to the greenhouse’s Toronto-based engineer. The business will soon finalize pre-sale contracts with Jackson-area restaurants and grocery stores, sign a lease with the town of Jackson and translate its design plans into actual blueprints, she said.

If all goes well, McBride said, construction on the $2.3 million greenhouse could start next spring.

The SLIB also approved $18,592,642 for 20 business-ready community grant and loan requests on Thursday. The business-ready community program provides financing for publicly owned infrastructure to serve businesses and promote economic development in Wyoming. The Wyoming Business Council vets business proposals before forwarding projects to the SLIB for final approval.

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