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Hemp-centric company locating in Wilson

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A Raleigh start-up plans to invest nearly $20 million in a new manufacturing facility on Black Creek Road that is slated to employ 42 people in the next two years.

Wilson Economic Development Executive Director Jennifer Lantz said after about 10 months, Avient Biosciences LLC. is finalizing the details of a planned expansion involving the shuttered Voith Paper North America. Lantz presented an overview to county commissioners on the hemp-centric company Monday during a closed session.

When officials came back into open session, the commissioners approved a resolution supporting the application for a $500,000 building reuse grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce. If awarded, the grant requires a 5% — or $25,000 — from local entities but neither the city nor the county has approved that allocation yet.

Lantz said Avient plans to lease the 200,000-square-foot building at 3040 Black Creek Road SE from Wilson County Properties Inc. She’s hoping the deal will close later this month and nearly $2 million worth of renovations will start next month. Construction is expected to take about three months as the company invests any additional $18 million in equipment for hemp oil extraction, hemp drying and an independent laboratory.

“Their experimentation and ideas for more utilization of hemp beyond CBD oil is exciting,” Lantz said. “We’re very interested in having the independent lab here for hemp producers to contract for studies and experiments they need. Finally, in an industry that is just beginning to grow and blossom, it is not always easy to identify companies that will have the staying power, but we think this company will.”

The bulk of hiring for the jobs, with an average salary of $64,578, will take place in the first part of 2020.

“Avient looked at counties and cities all around us because we have the right soil and the right farmers to actually be able to grow hemp. It can be a difficult crop to grow, but it is being produced all around us, so Wilson is in the position for companies to look at locating here, and Avient will complement the other hemp industries already located in Wilson, which is a positive for our community,” Lantz said. “Also, we’re thrilled to see an older industrial building improved and utilized again for manufacturing.”

EXTRA! EXTRA!

Hotel occupancy along Interstate 95 in Wilson was down in August — 12% compared to a year ago — but the rate for rooms is up 7% over the same time period.

“We’ve still got 70+% occupancy, and our rate is almost $90, so we’re still getting our fair share of the market, but if you throw in a storm like Hurricane Florence or whatever, it can trigger an offset of the numbers,” said Dennis Johnson, Comfort Suites general manager and chairman of the board of directors for the Wilson County Tourism Development Authority.

Online efforts to promote tourism spurred 2.1 million impressions and 7,111 clicks on https://wilson-nc.com/ in August.

“The brand itself with the logo was the biggest performer in the Google search last month with 7,206 impressions and 351 clicks to the website. Things to do and tourism as a whole were competitive as well,” Johnson said. “Re-targeting was our biggest performer among digital displays with 681,000, and almost 2,000 of those clicked on our website.”

Facebook remains the largest source of social media engagement, but Johnson noted Instagram is nearing 100,000 impressions a month. As such, staff talked about ways to promote more engagement through social media with contests and special hashtags.

Got an idea for news to include in next week’s Main Street Minute? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 252-265-7821 or bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com.

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