Craig resident eyes building greenhouse, hydroponic food company

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Marilynn Hill

Craig resident Marilynn Hill has developed an idea she thinks could help pull local businesses out of the current economic slump and provide the area a much-needed lift from tough circumstances.

Hill, also the Moffat County Tourism Association director, said Monday that she and others have begun looking into starting a new company that would bring fresh ideas and products into the area.

That project comes in the form of 12 large-scale commercial greenhouses as part of a hydroponically-grown food business she is calling Planet Yampa.

Hill said she has developed the Planet Yampa project over the last five months in her spare time from her MCTA duties.

Currently, the $140 million project is in the process of seeking initial grant funding to fully determine if it is feasible in the Moffat County area.

“It’s not just a dream — it is something that can be a reality,” she said. “People are understanding that we really do need to diversify.”

Planet Yampa, Hill said, aims to grow, produce and distribute a variety of hydroponically grown foods such as cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, peppers and others in addition to the production of value-added products like soups and sauces.

“Anytime you can take a product from its raw form … and add value into it, make it into a sauce, etc., you increase your return on investment is much greater,” she said.

Hill said she applied for a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for funds to complete a feasibility study of the project on Dec. 30 and expects to hear back whether or not her project is funded by mid-March.

However, Hill said she and others are working on other aspects of the project while they wait to hear if they are awarded the grant.

If the grant for the feasibility study is awarded, Hill said the project will have a much easier chance of taking roots and thus attracting investors.

“Many times people can have a passion about something and they can wish all they want that something is going to provide a value … but they don’t put the time into a feasibility study to show that,” she said.

As Hill envisions it, the project will include 12 greenhouses, each measuring the width of four football fields and the length of eight football fields, on a total of about 520 acres somewhere in Moffat County.

Planet Yampa would also be combined as a research facility to study advanced horticulture techniques as well as geothermal, hydro and clean coal technologies, she said.

The project will be completed in three steps, Hill said, with each phase adding more greenhouses and infrastructure.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $140 million, which Hill plans to have fully funded and built by 2016.

After phase one is complete, Planet Yampa will initially support about 300 jobs and about 700 primary and secondary jobs after it is fully complete, Hill estimates.

“The reason why I wanted to put it in Moffat County … is that this is an ideal location to be able to have the workforce to be able to provide primary jobs (and) secondary jobs,” she said.

Hill said she is hoping to foster interest from investors who she will rely on to pick up the bill for the project.

“There are a number of venture capital companies that we are looking at and have been in early phase talks with,” she said.

While Hill works to secure other grants for the development of the idea and determine other large intangibles such as location, water supply and infrastructure, she is also working on a business plan and developing a leadership team to move the project forward.

Connecting with other organizations in the Yampa Valley is key for the project’s success, Hill said.

“While this might be my idea … you can’t make something this large happen all on your own,” she said. “One of the things that I’ve really been open to, and I have said this to every group that I have presented to, is that while this might be my project, it’s really the community’s project.”

Hill has received numerous letters of support for Planet Yampa from local governments, state and federal legislators, and other organizations. She contends the community needs to understand and embrace the project, because they can either “make or break it.”

“We also have the ability to build something from the bottom up so we could make it look exactly like what we want it to look like,” she said. “This dream is our dream — it doesn’t have to be a Fortune 500 dream.”

Although the project’s success has yet to be determined, Hill said the chances appear good and that “people want this to happen.”

“I don’t think it is not going to happen,” she said. “Honestly, from the research that has taken place and by understanding that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and that we know that the (return on investment) is there … it will happen. We just have to take the longer-term approach.”

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