Hemp oil producer opens: Criticality hosts tour for local officials

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Criticality began production Wednesday extracting medicinal cannabidiol oil from hemp in Wilson.

The firm hosted 115 officials for a tour of its high-tech facilities Tuesday.

“We are an integrated, North Carolina-based industrial hemp company that takes a science-based approach to the extraction, purification and formulation of high-quality transparent industrial hemp-derived consumer products and bulk goods. We are operational under the North Carolina industrial hemp pilot program,” said Brian Moyer, CEO of Criticality. “We are a combination of a tremendous heritage of international agricultural expertise from 100-plus years of operating not only here in North Carolina and the United States but really around the world combined with some tremendous local farming knowledge and ultimately extraction and purification used in the food and pharmaceutical industry for 25-plus years.”

The company “will ultimately help drive industrial hemp for not only the U.S. but really here in North Carolina and make sure that North Carolina and Wilson in particular plays a significant role in this fast-growing industry,” Moyer said.

The 55,000 square-foot facility is designed to meet good manufacturing practices and to operate in compliance with dietary supplement guidelines.

“We are in a fast-moving, rapidly changing industry. It went from about $100 million a few years ago and is projected to go to $22 billion by 2022,” Moyer said. “That is a significant increase and we are really positioned here not only to take advantage of that within Criticality, but within Wilson and all of eastern North Carolina to help really drive this budding industry.”

Moyer said the company has a “commitment to quality and to innovation, a path to providing natural well-being through hemp-derived products like CBD, which is a naturally occurring, non-psychoactive plant-derived cannabinoid that’s found in industrial hemp.”

Visitors saw the complex machine that does “super-critical fluid extraction” to pull out the CBD oil from the raw plant material.

The oil is then sold in bulk or formulated into the company’s own consumer products.

“Any time a new business comes to Wilson, we are extremely happy,” said Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose. “It gives us a place where people can work at and that’s what we want. I understand this is going to be a great company here in Wilson and we are glad to have them.”

Rose said he was excited about the possibility of a new commodity crop. Hemp was made legal to grow and process as a result of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 passed in December.

A growing number of farmers are adding hemp into their crop rotations.

“I think it is good,” Rose said. “I am always interested in doing things different, or new things come on the market, let’s try them out and that’s what they are doing here and we’re happy. I am just happy to have this company. That’s the main thing I want to say. I am hoping to learn a lot about it.”

“I love new businesses to come to Wilson,” said City Councilman A.P. Coleman. “It’s more jobs for people. We’re growing. I love new opportunities as long as it’s legal. We’re increasing the tax base, all that’s good, very good, and it’s in my district, District 1.”

“Wilson has tremendous agricultural roots. Farmers are a key stakeholder in our business moving forward,” Moyer said. “We work with those farmers day-in and day-out in the fields to really support and to drive the development of this relatively new crop that’s out there. It hasn’t been grown, especially in its current form, in many years and it does take some specialized knowledge and some work and it’s a growing process and a learning process and we are doing as much as we can through our partners and working directly with farmers to make sure that it is an extremely viable and profitable and marketable product moving forward.”

J. Pieter Sikkel, CEO of Pyxus International, formerly Alliance One International Inc., described in Criticality literature as a partner in the venture.

Sikkel said Tuesday that the Criticality facility is “state of the art.”

“It will set the standard by which all hemp extraction facilities should be judged around the United States and around the world,” Sikkel said. “Today is an exciting day not only for Criticality and Pyxus but also for North Carolina and the entire hemp industry.

Sikkel said farmers are a “key asset.”

“Through our work with the farmers in the fields to the extraction of the CBD oil in Criticality’s new facility here to the production of high quality, sustainably produced products such as Korent, we are setting the standard for the hemp industry,” Sikkel said. “This factory is just the beginning and as we grow, we are committed to doing it in the right way, making sure that we are providing our customers with sustainable, responsible products that they can trust.”

Located on 1900 Stantonsburg Road, the facility currently has 18 employees but there are plans to ramp up to 88 employees in the next five years.

Moyer said those jobs will average about $44,000 in salary and they will all come with employee benefit options.

“We are hiring a variety of positions now from operators as we expand the number of shifts to support staff to sales staff,” Moyer said. “We have a laboratory where we conduct all of our internal analysis, so chemists, engineers, R&D staff. We are building out the entire business and we are doing it here. We are committed to this area and we are building out the staff here in Wilson.”

The facility will initially be able to produce a few hundred pounds of hemp oil per shift, Moyer said.

“As we move forward with the expansion, the ultimate ability here would be able to handle 2,000 acres,” Moyer said. “Today, we are not at that level. That’s why the facility was built this way. We wanted to be here close to the farmers that can rapidly expand their sizes and we can continue to build out lines so that way we can handle large quantities such as 2,000 acres. Larger equipment would essentially go here in this bay as we expand and the market opportunity continues to expand.”

One acre of hemp can yield between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of product.

Moyer said the facility will be processing hemp grown in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Colorado.

“A significant portion of our hemp is grown around eastern North Carolina,” Moyer said.

“I think it is exciting any time there is an opportunity for farmers to grow a new commodity that they can make money on,” said Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County. “It’s really good for Criticality to have infrastructure right here and it kind of continues to serve Wilson as a hub of agriculture and agribusiness, so it is good to have a new agribusiness representation here in Wilson.”

CORRECTION, March 14, 7:13 p.m. — Criticality CEO Brian Moyer's name was initially misspelled as Brian Boyer. This story has been updated to correct Moyer's name. The Times regrets the error.