CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The idea to produce white oak whiskey barrels in West Virginia came from the tragedy that was the 2016 flood, an official with The West Virginia Great Barrel Company said Thursday at the state capitol.
Rebuilding homes in Greenbrier County was just the start, company spokesman Tom Crabtree said.
“The people who invested in West Virginia to rebuild the homes truly believed that rebuilding the homes was just the beginning of economic recovery in West Virginia,” Crabtree said.
Approximately 20 investors are putting up approximately $30 million for the plant and sawmill necessary for the operation in the White Sulphur Springs area.
Dozens of job will be created, Gov. Jim Justice said.
“They’re going to employ initially 113 people and the lowest paying job is $40,000 with the hopes of moving that employment up,” Justice said. “There is a huge demand from the distilling industry for white oak barrels.”
The company plans to produce 700 barrels a day, 125,000 a year, and they already have a buyer for the product, Crabtree said.
“We’ll harvest 13 million board feet of white oak (a year), which is only six percent of what is being harvested today, but that 13 million board feet of white oak will create over $50 million of commerce (annually) in Greenbrier County, Monroe County and the state of West Virginia,” Crabtree said.
A video of the barrel making process was shown at Thursday’s news conference. Crabtree called it a clean manufacturing process with a large machine taking the boards through various steps until a barrel is completed.
State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher says the investment is just what the state needs.
“This epitomizes the absolute best in our state. It uses our raw products. It utilizes West Virginia investment and labor and it’s a real testimony to the governor’s initiatives by seeing the private investments in this,” Thrasher said.
The state Economic Development Authority gave preliminary approval earlier Thursday to the company for a $6 million, 10-year loan. The money will help pay for equipment and the nearly two dozen acres of land for the operation in Caldwell, right outside White Sulphur Springs.
Crabtree said groundbreaking would take place early next year with the first barrel produced in 2019.
“This is a fast track project, it’s shovel ready. We’re ready to start creating jobs quickly,” he said.