A planned industrial hemp facility at the corner of Johnson Road and Old Cariboo Highway is expected to create approximately 1,500 jobs in Prince George.
BC Hemp Corporation announced plans on Wednesday for a $350 million facility at its new head offices on the former site of Ritchie Brothers Auctioneers, just down the road from the proposed facility. Production is expected to start within two years, with a focus on hemp fibre and grain for hemp-based products like textiles and food products.
BC Hemp CEO Micheal Fazakas said the project could be a "life-changing" development for the city.
"(But) we cannot do this without community involvement," Fazakas said. "We can build a stronger Prince George, we can build a stronger north."
The 1,500 jobs represents direct employees, he said, with an estimated annual payroll of $75 million.
Fazakas said he expects preliminary work to start on the site this year, with construction to begin next year. The overall timeline to start product is three or four years.
The company has already begun reaching out to farmers, who would produce the hemp crop for processing, he said. Several places around the city have an excellent climate for growing strains of hemp used for making textiles.
BC Hemp will function as a subsidiary of the Healx group of companies, he said, which will produce a variety of hemp-based products includes hemp-based ranging from protein shakes to CBD oil capsules. The company is also planning to open a multi-service health clinic in Prince George, which is expected to open later this year.
"There are many reasons for choosing Prince George, including the central location and the climate for growing hemp," BC Hemp president Remi Balaj said in a press release. "It was perfect for a hemp hub."
Fazakas said the proximity to the airport, rail lines, to the Port of Prince Rupert and highways makes the city strategically placed to move their products wherever the demand is.
"The city is literally a crossroads," he said.
The company is "very close" to having all the permitting and funding it needs in place to bring the project to realization, Fazakas added.
Part of the facility on Johnson Road will include a 100-acre agricultural test site, to test different varieties of hemp crops and cultivation methods.
The company's five-year plan calls for 300,000 acres of farm land producing hemp in northern B.C. to supply the planned processing facility, with a focus on organic production.
"Soil health is key to our long-term plans," BC Hemp's Chris Hatfield said in a press release. "We want to make a lasting, positive impact on agriculture in the region, and that all starts with the soil."
BC Hemp is looking to work with farmers, First Nations and communities in the north to promote hemp cultivation and secondary businesses producing products from the fibre, grain and oil. Products which can be made from hemp fibre include clothing, rope, netting, paper and building materials.
Hemp grain and oil are used in products like protein flour, food supplements, birdseed, soaps and beauty products.
The company expects to sell processed material at "very competitive rates" to promote local production of finished hemp-based goods.
"The long-term plan is to help develop hundreds of local businesses that use hemp to develop their products," BC Hemp's Istvan Kapacs said in a press release. "In the last few (months) we have already had both international and domestic companies who want access to our products."
Mayor Lyn Hall said the project has the potential to "put us on the map" as a place for emerging industries to develop.
"One of the thing I'm most interested in is the potential impact in Prince George," Hall said. "(I) look forward to seeing the snow disappear and construction start."
MLA Shirley Bond said she is excited about what the opportunity for northern B.C.
"When (BC Hemp director of public relations Robert Quibell) and the team came and talked to me, I asked some hard questions," Bond said.
However, she said, they convinced her the opportunity is real, and could benefit residents
"I consider this project to be an innovative agriculture project," she said.
In addition to offering farmers a new, potentially profitable crop, Bond said. the potential for 1,500 additional jobs in northern B.C., could change the lives of many Prince George families.
Prince George Airport Authority CEO Gordon Duke welcomed BC Hemp to the Old Cariboo Road neighbourhood.
"It's a really good fit," Duke said. "The sheer number of products that can be made from hemp is really impressive. When the time comes to start shipping B.C. hemp to ports all around the world, we're ready."