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HempWood grows in Murray 

Company adapts processes, equipment to build hemp success story 

AFTER 10 YEARS of booms, busts and uncertainty since industrial hemp returned to Kentucky farms for the first time since the early 1940s, a Murray agriculture tech startup is delivering on the promise of the crop’s revival. 

Through a patented process, HempWood converts hemp fiber into a composite wood substitute that can be crafted into products typically made of hardwoods, such as flooring, paneling, lumber, building materials, furniture and picture frames. While an oak tree can take 60 years to grow large enough for such use, hemp stalks grow to 8 feet and can be harvested in about four months. 

“Twenty years ago, I started working in bamboo flooring in China,” explains HempWood founder Greg Wilson. “We were making logs out of bamboo and then we were turning it into flooring, furniture and cabinetry. When hemp became legal in the 2014 farm bill, we started doing some research and seeing if it was actually a possibility.” 

Scouring the internet, Wilson found Murray State University’s pioneering hemp pilot program and called Hutson School of Agriculture Dean Tony Brannon. 

“He said, ‘You’re calling from China but you’re speaking English, what’s your deal?’” Wilson recalls. “I said, well I’m an American and I’m making bamboo flooring over here and I would like to make hempwood flooring. And he said, ‘that’s what we’ve been looking for, when are you coming down to visit?’” 

Brannon used his clout and connections to help Wilson score meetings with state officials and cut through red tape. “Within two hours, we already knew that this was going to work,” Wilson says with a smile. 

The task before him wasn’t just to create a new company; he was launching a new manufacturing process. In a 16,450-square-foot Murray facility served by West Kentucky RECC, HempWood designed and built the equipment, modifying some from tobacco, bamboo and other agricultural processes; adapting sawmill and paper mill equipment; and creating some from scratch. Six years later, HempWood has two factories and 25 employees.

HempWood purchases hemp grown by local farmers and uses an eco-friendly soy-based adhesive developed with Murray State Chemistry Professor Kevin Miller, creating what Wilson says is a sustainable product with a 20% higher density than oak. 

“Our team at HempWood is committed to providing healthy building materials that are good for the environment, and its users,” Wilson says. 

HempWood is the coolest 

Out of the thousands of world-class products manufactured in Kentucky, HempWood won the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers’ 2024 Coolest Thing Made in Kentucky award. In the finals of the bracket-style competition, the Murray-produced wood alternative bested Louisville Slugger baseball bats in the online vote. 

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