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Halifax County moves forward with hemp processing venture

South Boston News
The former Blue Ridge Beverage distribution center in South Boston. / May 18, 2020
Financing agreements have been reached to establish a hemp processing operation at the Houghton Industrial Park in South Boston, creating around 20 new jobs with the potential for more.

“Project Phoenix,” code name for a hemp operation that counts county natives Rick Gregory and Sterling Edmunds Jr. as its founders, is set to open at the former Blue Ridge Beverage distribution center on Houghton Avenue. In information provided last year as part of a grant application to the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, the name given for the operation was Blue Ribbon Hemp.

On Friday, the Halifax County Board of Supervisors and Industrial Development Authority met in closed session to review a financing agreement to borrow up to $2.6 million for Project Phoenix. The money would go toward making improvements to the building where the hemp processor will operate.

With the rise in demand for cannabidiol (CBD) products, derived from the hemp plant, Halifax County has been working to establish a local processing facility. The operation is expected to support expanded hemp production in Southside Virginia, creating more jobs and other spinoff economic benefits.

A performance agreement in place for the project calls for the creation of “the targeted number of new jobs at approximately 14 and the number of other full time equivalent positions at approximately 8.” In the past, county officials have said the operation could grow to 41 employees and “hundreds of ancillary jobs” within three years.

Voting in open session, Supervisors approved a resolution authorizing up to $2.6 million in loan funds to upgrade the former Blue Ridge Beverage building. The planned location at the former beer distribution center was confirmed by IDA Executive Director Brian Brown.

All supervisors voted to approve the financing agreement with the exception of ED-7 supervisor Garland Ricketts, who abstained.

As part of the loan agreement with American National Bank, supervisors accepted a moral obligation clause to pay off the loan in the event of default. The loan is secured by a deed of trust on the building. The IDA will lease the facility to the hemp processing company, with lease payments earmarked to service the loan debt.

Supervisors also agreed to the terms of a $250,000 grant award for the project by the tobacco commission, with the IDA receiving the money to apply to the project.

Edmunds and Gregory grew up in Halifax County and carved out successful careers in finance and development upon settling in Richmond. A short biography submitted to the tobacco commission described them as “both Halifax County natives, with deep family ties to Southside Virginia. They are successful entrepreneurs with decades of experience in family farming businesses, banking, law, economic development projects and financial investments.”

Edmunds is a former president of SunTrust Mortgage Corporation, a division of SunTrust Bank. In 2013, he became managing director of Edmunds Private Capital, LLC, a privately held money management firm headquartered in Richmond. Edmunds has remained active in Halifax County affairs, serving as vice chairman of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Foundation. He also has served as a member of the VCU Foundation Board of Trustees and the Robins School of Business Executive Advisory Council at the University of Richmond.

Gregory grew up on a farm in Halifax County and graduated from Halifax County Senior High School before continuing his education at the University of Virginia and law school at The College of William & Mary. In 2001, Gregory founded Lynx Ventures, “which is focused on bringing innovative economic development projects to Virginia,” according to the founders’ bio.

“Rick’s creative and entrepreneurial approach generates consistent returns for investors and partners. Recognized for his ability to maximize tax incentives, Rick has developed a strong expertise in tax credits and strategic financial structuring. He is a problem solver who has been recognized for his success in stimulating revitalization in overlooked neighborhoods,” the bio states. Gregory currently serves on the board of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the agency where he once worked. He also serves on the boards of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Venture Richmond.

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