Nearly 100 people gathered on KY 801 North Tuesday morning to witness the Independent Stave Company break ground for their Commonwealth Cooperage, expected to create 220 jobs with a $66.5 million investment.

The groundbreaking celebrated the onset of the new cooperage’s construction near the Morehead-Rowan County Airport at 201 Rodney Hitch Boulevard.

Using locally manufactured staves, Commonwealth Cooperage will produce white oak barrels for the bourbon and whiskey industries.

With construction complete, the cooperage will become the company’s third in the state, joining its 500-employee Kentucky Cooperage in Lebanon and a used barrel cooperage in Louisville, which refurbishes and provides freshly dumped whiskey barrels to breweries and wineries.

In the last four years, ISC has opened two stave mills within the state, Benton Wood Products in Marshall County and Morehead Wood Products off Cranston Road, a 120-employee operation with a more than $11 million investment.

Morehead Wood Products will supply the Commonwealth Cooperage with staves and heads for barrel construction.

For employees, the cooperage will tap the Eastern Kentucky region’s available and manufacturing-oriented workforce, many members of which have been underemployed or unemployed due to coal mining’s decline.

“We are excited to continue investing in and expanding our cooperage operations in the Commonwealth of Kentucky as we support the growth of our customers,” said Brad Boswell, Independent Stave CEO and fourth-generation cooper. “As our fourth domestic cooperage, Commonwealth significantly expands our production capabilities which will allow us to better serve the future needs of our customers.”

ISC, a family-owned cooperage company headquartered in Missouri, reaches distilleries, wineries and breweries in more than 40 countries.

The Boswell family founded the company in 1912, first as a domestic supplier of staves, and today as a cooperage company crafting a wide range of barrels and oak products.

In addition to its U.S. facilities in Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, the company operates facilities internationally, including in France, Australia and South America.

It owns seven stave mills: one in northeastern France and six American oak mills.

ISC’s growth has coincided with Kentucky’s bourbon boom.

Bourbon – and many of its whiskey relatives – is aged in charred oak barrels.

That process gives the spirit its signature caramel color and contributes to its complex palate of flavors.

A global boom in demand for bourbon the past decade continues to benefit Kentucky and its signature industry. Creating further demand, bourbon barrels can be used only once for bourbon aging.

Distillers filled more than 1.7 million barrels in 2018, up from fewer than 800,000 a decade ago, according to a recent study by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

Distillers also reported capital spending – such as new and expanded plants and barrel warehouses of $1.1 billion during last five years. They plan to invest another $1.2 billion planned over the next five years, the study found.

Rowan County Judge-Executive Harry Clark said ISC’s growth continues to help improve the lives of Kentuckians.

“This new cooperage is going to positively impact the lives of more than 200 Kentucky citizens by giving them well-paying, meaningful jobs in a growing industry,” Judge-Executive Clark said. “Congratulations to Independent Stave for their success to date, and I look forward to more great achievements in the future.”

Morehead Mayor Laura White-Brown said the company provides an immense benefit to the region.

“Our community is very fortunate to have a corporate partner like Independent Stave that is committed to growing here in Morehead,” White-Brown said. “This groundbreaking marks a very positive step forward for this city and the company.”

Morehead-Rowan County Economic Development Council Inc. Executive Director Bob Helton said the new cooperage’s benefit to the area would be multifaceted.

“Today’s groundbreaking is great news all around for our region,” Helton said. “This project provides a twofold benefit for the region, with both direct jobs at the cooperage and creation of more demand for logging, trucking and other peripheral industries. Additionally, the cooperage will be located within a mile of the new Rowan Campus of Maysville Community and Technical College, which will enable a partnership that will benefit both the college and the cooperage to train future employees while continuing to improve the strength of the college.”

To encourage the investment and job growth in the community, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority (KEDFA) in March 2018 preliminarily approved the company for tax incentives up to $3 million through the Kentucky Business Investment program. The performance-based incentive allows a company to keep a portion of the new tax revenue it generates over the agreement term through corporate income tax credits and wage assessments by meeting job and investment targets.

Additionally, KEDFA approved ISC for up to $500,000 in tax incentives through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act (KEIA). KEIA allows approved companies to recoup Kentucky sales and use tax on construction costs, building fixtures, equipment used in research and development and electronic processing.

ISC also can receive resources from the Kentucky Skills Network

Through the Kentucky Skills Network, companies can receive no-cost recruitment and job placement services, reduced-cost customized training and job training incentives.

For more information on ISC, visit www.independentstavecompany.com.

Brad Stacy can be reached at bstacy@themoreheadnews.com or by telephone at 784-4116.

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