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33 Resource Fiber e Black Belt probably won't be mistaken for China, nor would anyone expect to find a panda munching on bamboo in central Alabama. Yet, there's no mistake that a former first lady intends to turn forgotten cotton fields into an economic opportunity for the region. "I consider myself an advocate for bamboo," says Marsha Folsom, chief development officer of Resource Fiber. She was Alabama's first lady from 1993 to 1995 as wife of Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. "e Black Belt is uniquely suited to be the epicenter for bamboo cultivation and manufacturing of industrial products due to its fertile soils, temperate climate and abundant water resources." One of the world's fastest-growing plants, bamboo is rising on a 100-acre plot just outside Eutaw in the fledgling company's first nursery. Resource Fiber's co-founders, David and Ann Knight, and Folsom are directing the only "vertically integrated" bamboo products company in the nation, growing the plant at a commercial scale, selling the fiber and manufacturing bamboo products. e Eutaw farm is expected to produce in 15 years enough plants to grow another 100,000 acres of bamboo across the U.S. Where pine trees take 20 years to mature, bamboo is ready to harvest at six to 10 years. It captures five times more carbon than a similar plot of pines. Bamboo requires little water or fertilizer and no pesticides. It is stronger than almost any wood and yields 20 times more fiber than trees. Best of all for the farmer, bamboo is a perennial grass that grows back on its own after cutting, which means there is no need to replant for decades. Until the initial Eutaw crop is harvested, it basically needs only the care of COO Roger Lewis and a few part-time workers. Lewis, a horticulture expert, is on the Resource Fiber board of directors, with, among others, Land Asset Manager Scott Bryant, who is also developer of Birmingham's 20 Midtown. Southern Research is doing preliminary studies about possibilities for bamboo in the Black Belt and beyond. Folsom said she is "thrilled" about that relationship, as well as Resource Fiber's alliances with the University of Alabama, Auburn University, the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. "We've been working closely with certain strategic industrial partners to develop products based on their specifications," Folsom says. "We anticipate going into full production of our initial three industrial products – bamboo rail ties, truck-trailer decking and nail-laminated timber – in 2019." Research Fiber anticipates re-locating its pilot plant in Oneida, Tennessee, to Alabama within the next 10 years, possibly employing more than 100 workers. Folsom notes that bamboo uses are almost limitless, creating a $60 billion annual industry worldwide. One example: bamboo utility pole crossarms perform better in testing than standard wood versions. "It is estimated that there are over $10 billion of goods imported into the U.S. from China annually," Folsom says. "With our experienced, comprehensive management team, the establishment of the bamboo fiber industry in the Ahmad Ijaz and Paavo Hanninen, both of the University of Alabama, talk with Phyllis Belcher and Eutaw Mayor Raymond Steele. Mila Key and her mother, Melanie Moss, own the popular Roebuck Landing Grill and Grocery. Bamboo is growing on a 100-acre plot outside Eutaw at the Resource Fiber nursery.

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