Isotex receives flood of local job applicants

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THE OLD Stinger building in Libby will now be home to Isotex Health, a hemp production company. (Tana Wilson/The Western News)

About 210 people, most from Lincoln County, have applied for jobs at Isotex Health since the hemp production company closed a deal to buy the old Stinger building in Libby on Sept. 26.

Co-founder and CEO Jason Cross said company officials were pleased with the response. Speaking at a Libby Chamber of Commerce open forum at the Dome Theater on Oct. 10, Cross said almost all the applicants hailed from the area.

The facility will produce an isolate for cannabidiol (CBD), a hemp extract increasingly used for its health and medicinal qualities. The plant employs 10 people thus far and that number is expected to eventually rise to 120 workers.

Cross and co-founder Eugene Elfrank said the company already is installing equipment necessary for production, including 20 large hemp dryers and hemp shuckers. When the facility is fully operational, they expect to process between 250,000 and 500,000 pounds of hemp a day, Elfrank said.

The first shipments of unprocessed hemp should begin arriving in the coming weeks.

“We’re already harvesting,” Cross said, telling the crowd that the company had access to about 13,900 acres of hemp in eastern Montana.

By next year, they hope to grow hemp on between 100 and 150 acres annually.

Hemp is closely related to the marijuana plant and is a component in medicinal marijuana, but the plant itself is not intoxicating, according to the Dr. Peter Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Blog.

Cannabidiol has been shown to help those suffering from epilepsy, particularly children with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which are otherwise difficult to treat, according to Grinspoon. Other uses include treatment for anxiety, chronic pain and insomnia. Side effects may include fatigue, irritability and nausea.

More study of CBD is needed, Grinspoon wrote, and it is not a cure-all. The medical community still does not know how much is an effective dose for certain treatments, for example.

Hemp-related industries have grown in Montana since passage of the Hemp Farming Act as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The plant was considered a schedule 1 drug, like heroin and LSD, prior to the law change.

Elfrank said the equipment needed to extract the isolate will be installed in Isotext’s Libby facility in the next six to nine months. The byproduct leftover from the extraction process may also prove a boon as it can be used in products ranging from headboards to automotive parts, he said.

“We have people lined up out the door to come and get those items,” Elfrank said.

Isotex will be housed in the former Stinger Welding building in the Kootenai Business Park. The building, which previously was the manufacturing site for large steel girders, has sat empty for several years.

The vacant, more than 100,000-square-foot building is a large part of the reason Isotex came to Libby, said Elfrank.

“It is a beautiful place,” he said of the city. “One of the things that attracted us was that large building.”

Cross said he hopes the company’s presence will spur economic growth in the area.

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