80 Acres Farms is now producing tomatoes in downtown Hamilton. They purchased the former Miami Motor Car Co. building on S. 2nd Street in February 2017 and have renovated it to create an indoor farm facility. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

‘The perfect home’: Why 80 Acres chose Hamilton to move its headquarters and create 125 jobs

The Ohio Tax Credit Authority on Monday approved a Job Creation Tax Credit for the company for 1.647 percent over eight years. Earlier this year, the company secured a $40 million investment from the last round of funding, which will allow it to carry out expansion of its Hamilton operations.

80 Acres Farms also has moved its corporate headquarters, as well as 15 employees, from Cincinnati to newly renovated office space on High Street in downtown Hamilton, company officials said Monday.

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Based on project metric commitments, the average salary for an 80 Acres Farms job will be about $30 per hour, according to Kimm Lauterbach, president and CEO of REDI Cincinnati.

80 Acres Farms was founded in 2015 by Mike Zelkind and Tisha Livingston, two veteran food industry executives. It is supported by a board of directors representing executive and leadership experience at leading food, health care and other companies.

Hamilton is “the perfect home” for 80 Acres, given the company’s commitment to social responsibility, year-round sustainable farming and innovative automation, Lauterbach said.

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This marks REDI Cincinnati’s second project with 80 Acres Farms, which derives its name from its ability to grow 80 acres worth of food in a quarter of an acre space, all starting in its original location in Cincinnati.

“It’s a tremendous relief for the city of Hamilton, but also for our entire region,” Lauterbach told this news outlet. “We have worked with Mike for over a year-and-a-half now on business ideas and contacts. His willingness to engage with us in the international and domestic market, which they’ve already done, I think we’ve seen nothing but increased potential in additional companies and partnerships for the area.”

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Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith said 80 Acres Farms’ decision to call Hamilton home is important for three reasons.

“First, they will soon be one of our largest utility customers,” Smith said. “Second, their presence in Hamilton is attracting interest from other innovative companies. And third, their multiple locations throughout the city will have a positive impact on local businesses.”

80 Acres Farms provides customers with a variety of locally grown, just-picked leafy greens, microgreens and vine crops, including the world’s only tomatoes and cucumbers grown completely indoors using proprietary technologies. That includes modular grow zones, customized LED lighting, precisely tuned climate controls and an artificial intelligence-powered growing system.

The company said that allows to produce flavorful and nutritious locally grown fruits and vegetables at affordable prices.

Its vision is to establish year-round indoor farming operations in major cities around the world growing more nutritious produce, according to Zelkind, 80 Acres Farms’ CEO.

Its closed-loop, modular systems grow crops more sustainably, and their proximity to consumer locations dramatically decreases the distance produce must travel, thereby increasing shelf life and more importantly taste.

“Hamilton is a rising community looking for diversified growth and is strategically located near multiple large population centers,” Zelkind said. “Sustainability continues to be an essential part of our business, and Hamilton’s commitment to emissions-free, renewable energy through hydropower was also an important component in our decision to become an even bigger part of the Hamilton community.”

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The company, in early 2017, launched renovations on the former Miami Motor Company building on South 2nd Street, with plans to create 30,000 square feet of office and food production space downtown. The company is growing vine crops in that renovated location, where it started harvesting its first crops in April.

Last September, 80 Acres Farms broke ground on the first phase of its Hamilton Enterprise Park facility and in late March the first phase of the site started when the company started growing its first crop there.

It is set to become the country’s first fully automated indoor farm​.

Future phases will add around 150,000 square feet of controlled environmental agriculture, or CEA, space. That space will allow 80 Acres to “dramatically increase” distribution with its growing list of retail and food service partners, which includes Whole Foods, Jungle Jim’s International Market, Dorothy Lane Market and Green Bean Delivery, Zelkind said.

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Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said the company declaring Hamilton as its home base is “historic for both the company and for the City of Hamilton.”

“This company is changing the face of agriculture, and will be a magnet to attract other innovative companies to our community,” Moeller said. “We are proud and honored that they chose to locate their headquarters in Hamilton.”

State officials said they are excited about 80 Acres Farms’ decision to establish its headquarters in Hamilton and create more than 100 jobs there, according to Dana Saucier, JobsOhio vice president and head of economic development, agreed.

“80 Acres hydroponic urban farming is advancing efficiencies in the production and distribution of fresh produce year-round, and we are proud it calls Ohio home,” Saucier said.

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