The potential economic impact of Pennsylvania's hemp industry

Since receiving a National Science Foundation grant earlier this year, a wide-reaching coalition has started planning for the future of hemp in Pennsylvania. But before growers take on large-scale hemp operations in the state, industry experts say it needs processing facilities to transform the plant into construction materials and textiles.

Hazleton-based biotechnology company Vytal Plant Science Research pulled in a $1 million NSF grant in May to lead a cross-sector Industrial Hemp Engine. The group is aiming for $160 million in competitive grants over the next 10 years. Part of the plan could include a return to Pennsylvania’s agricultural roots.

“I don’t think we realize how well we’re positioned in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Ron Kander, who sits on the advisory board for the industrial hemp engine. He’s dean of the Kanbar College Design, Engineering & Commerce, associate provost of applied research at Thomas Jefferson University, and co-chair of the Pa. Hemp Steering Committee.

“We have growing land where people know and understand how to grow this crop. We have major manufacturing cities that have strong histories in manufacturing and in textiles.” And, he said, Pennsylvania is uniquely positioned to serve large markets on the East Coast.

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