BrightFarms, a brand of locally grown salads, has selected Abilene as the site of its first hydroponic greenhouse farm in Texas. Construction is slated to begin this summer, and shoppers will find fresh, local, pesticide-free and non-GMO greens and herbs in area grocery stores by early 2019.
The 180,000-s.f. hydroponic greenhouse will be constructed at an estimated cost of up to $17 million and create as many as 30 “green-collar” jobs for local residents, each paying a living wage and offering health benefits.
Operating greenhouse farms to help meet the growing demand for year-round local produce, BrightFarms says its sustainable growing methods use 80 percent less water, 90 percent less land and 95 percent less shipping fuel than conventional agriculture.
Founded in 2011 in New York, BrightFarms has facilities in Rochelle, Illinois; Culpeper County, Virginia; Bucks County, Pennsylvania and is in the process of opening a new location in Wilmington, Ohio.
By constructing greenhouse farms near major metros, the company’s produce can be picked at the height of freshness and delivered to supermarkets within 24 hours of harvest. By comparison, the majority of produce found on grocery shelves travel 5-7 days and thousands of miles, the company says.
The BrightFarms brand has gained the attention of major grocery retailers, with current partners representing more than 60 percent of the U.S. grocery market. As a result, the company has put forth a plan to phase its growth over the next few years to serve customers across the U.S.
In October 2017, The Governor’s Office of EDT (Economic Development and Tourism) contacted the Abilene Industrial Foundation (AIF), on behalf of BrightFarms, to identify an ideal site as part of its efforts to expand into the southern market. The AIF works on behalf of the Development Corporation of Abilene (DCOA) to promote the growth, development and diversification of the economy in Abilene by attracting new industries.
BrightFarms asked targeted Texas communities for greenfield sites to construct its next greenhouse operation. The AIF worked with the DCOA to formulate a response, highlighting the land that recently was made available next to the Abilene Regional Airport. This area, Access Business Park, is being developed as a “next generation business park that aims to be the home for new industry in the coming years.”
“Abilene’s central location, available land and incentive program plays an influential role in attracting this project to the city,” said Justin Jaworski, executive director for the AIF.
It is estimated that BrightFarms will generate $23.1 million in direct economic output over the next 10 years. Spin-off businesses in the community will produce $12.9 million in economic output in this same time frame, as a result of local operations. In total, the company will support $36 million in new economic output over this time. Economic output is the value of goods and services produced in the economy and can be thought of as revenues for businesses.
Kent Sharp, CEO of DCOA, said the company will contribute approximately $12.5 million in payroll to the local economy in its first 10 years.
“The project itself will generate an additional $3 million in revenues to local taxing entities over this period of time, with $1.5 million accruing to the City of Abilene,” he added.
As a result, DCOA approved a 10 percent match of the investment, up to $1,700,000, leaving the remaining 90 percent to be provided by the company.
“The involvement from the DCOA to incentivize this company to locate in Abilene is a testament to all the great things our city has to offer businesses,” said DCOA Board President John Beckham.
BrightFarms also will receive approximately 21 acres in Access Business Park, valued at $632,700, to construct the greenhouse. The incentive requires the company to meet minimum performance criteria for jobs and investment over the next five years. The project aims to begin construction in summer 2018 and be fully operational by early 2019.