Panda Biotech, the company that plans to open a large hemp processing plant in Wichita Falls, is going back to the city to ask for an extension on its promise to hire 50 workers.
Panda asked the city’s Economic Development Corporation for a three-year extension on the hiring promise that was part of a $2.8-million incentive plan.
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The EDC board decided this past week to table the request and gather more information.
Ron Kitchens, president of the Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce, said Panda Biotech’s president, Dixie Carter, will likely make a request directly to the city council at a meeting in early October.
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“They will formally present, ‘here’s where we are’ and then I’ll present ‘here’s what we’re asking for,” Kitchens said.
Wichita County Commissioners approved tax incentives for the company.
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Carter first said the company would begin operations in 2021, but that estimate has been delayed twice.
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Now the company intends to start operations in the former Delphi automotive building at 8400 Central Freeway in November, according to Kitchens.
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Panda’s plans began in 2020. The company got $85 million in tax-exempt bonds for the economic corporation in Mission Texas to buy the building from a group of local investors and to purchase equipment. The deal was touted as the largest investment of private capital in Wichita Falls in 40 years. Carter said the plant, which would turn hemp stalks into material for industrial uses, would be more likely to create 100 direct jobs and up to 700 indirect jobs.
On two occasions Panda got extensions from the city on a $1 million loan that was part of the incentive package. Kitchens said Panda is now repaying that loan at a rate of $70,000 per month.
In April, Panda Biotech joined in an equity partnership deal with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Growth Fund, which is owned by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
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Panda had first chosen a facility in Shallowater, Texas for its plant, but backed out of that deal in 2020.
Panda Biotech had its roots in Panda Energy International, Inc., an electric generating company that became defunct in 2018. The company had owned a professional wrestling operation where Dixie Carter served as president.
The 2018 federal farm bill made it possible for industrial hemp to be grown and processed like any ordinary agricultural commodity, after years of being outlawed because of its kinship with cannabis.
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Some believed hemp would bring a windfall of agricultural prosperity, but that has been slow to happen, especially in Texas. The crop is sensitive to heat and drought and many Texas farmers have been hesitant to embrace industrial hemp.