February 3, 2023 |
The State of Wyoming will help fund the world’s largest indoor farming research facility with a $20 million grant to a company with headquarters in California but whose roots are in Wyoming. The vertical farming research center will be built in Laramie.
The State Loan and Investment Board approved the grant Thursday for Plenty Unlimited, a San Francisco company that has pioneered both the technology, including robotics, and the food science used for indoor agriculture. Plenty’s website features a video that shows how the company grows and packages a variety of table-ready crops in its indoor facilities.
The company’s new research center, dubbed Project Jupiter, will be housed in a 60,000-plus square-foot facility built on 16 acres of land in the Cirrus Sky Technology Park in Laramie. The land was contributed to the project by the City of Laramie and the Laramie Chamber Business Alliance. In announcing the award of the SLIB grant, Governor Mark Gordon said two other states that were competing for the facility.
Two officials from Plenty Unlimited addressed SLIB at yesterday’s meeting about Project Jupiter. Arama Kukutai is a seasoned entrepreneur in the agritech industry. Kukutai was hired as Plenty’s Chief Executive Officer in January of last year. A native of New Zealand, he told the board the company focuses on innovative ways of growing fresh fruits and vegetable for markets around the world.
Indoor agriculture promises to minimize some of the challenges facing traditional practices, including year-round growing, water needs and use of pesticides. The co-founder of Plenty Unlimited is Dr. Nate Storey, who received his PhD in Agronomy from the University of Wyoming. He also received his Bachelor’s and Masters in Ag Science from UW. Storey’s area of expertise is vertical plane hydroponic production. He developed the only scalable indoor vertical farm that can grow multiple crops on one platform. Storey told the governor and the rest of the board that he is excited to bring his years of research and development back to Wyoming where it started.
Plenty Unlimited already employes 82 people in Laramie as part of its R&D team that Storey launched in 2014 while still a UW graduate student. Plenty employs 400 people nationwide. It has filed for more than 100 patents associated with its crop growing systems.
SLIB staff told the state’s top officers that the company should be able to pay back the grant for five years while creating a positive economic impact for Albany County.
One staff-produced chart for the board showed that the wages associated with the 120 new jobs will be 55 percent higher than the county median. Wyoming State School Superintendent Megan Degenfelder, who sits on the board, made the motion to approve the loan request as made.
The motion passed with only “no” vote. Secretary of State Chuck Gray was a no, but he asked no questions of the presenters and offered no comments on why he was against it. Construction will begin later this year.