Alltech founder announces $500,000 innovation award, hints at plans for Eastern Kentucky

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMay 19, 2014 

Alltech founder Pearse Lyons announced Monday that he would give away as much as $500,000 a year to help spur economic development, and he gave hints of his plans for Eastern Kentucky.

At the 30th annual Alltech International Symposium at the Lexington Convention Center, Lyons said his "Lyons Den" Innovation Fund was an outgrowth of the Alltech Innovation Competition, conceived as a way to inspire students while contributing to solutions for socioeconomic challenges in Eastern Kentucky. It has since been expanded to Ireland, Lyons' native country.

Winning ideas from the innovation competition include a plan for reclaiming mountaintops with switchgrass that could be used for fuel. Details on the "angel fund" application process will be announced in June. The fund will be open to applicants with projects that would have direct economic impact on Kentucky and Ireland and that are related to the food, beverage or agriculture sectors.

"If we could fund three, four, five projects per year, what kind of impact could that have on Kentucky and Ireland? How many jobs could be created? The impact could be staggering and life-changing," Lyons said.

Alltech, a Nicholasville-based global animal nutrition company, is planning a series of major economic investments in Eastern Kentucky, including building a distillery, a brew pub and a visitors center in Pikeville.

A dollar figure for the projects is to be announced in two weeks.

But Lyons gave a few clues as to the scope of his plans: Trout, which he said can be raised easily and sold to Northeastern population centers, figures into it. So does a new amphitheater under construction at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park in Prestonsburg.

And possibly Champion Petfoods, a Canadian company that's opening a plant in Kentucky. It buys algae products from Alltech for its premium dog and cat foods.

Separately, Lyons said Alltech planned to expand its algae plant in Winchester to double or triple the production capacity to meet growing needs worldwide for DHA supplements from sources other than fish oil.

DHA is docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that might reduce the risk of heart disease.

"In Eastern Kentucky, we'll have a distillery, we'll have a brewery, we'll have a visitors center, we'll tie in somehow or another with the theater down there ... and then we'll look to where Alltech's expertise is. It's in chickens. It's in layers; it's in enriched eggs, with our DHA. So why would we not have enriched eggs?" Lyons asked. He also mentioned DHA-enriched fish.

Lyons said he foresees a kind of animal agriculture tourism, with schoolchildren visiting Alltech's egg and fish operations.

As for the beer and whiskey, Lyons said, the brands would be separate from the Town Branch Bourbon and Bourbon Barrel Ale lines he has developed in Lexington.

The Pikeville brands will capitalize on the heritage of the region.

"When we do something over there, we have to create a brand, and that has the opportunity of being a Kentucky Ale. It has to be a whole new brand," he said. "One of these suggested was 'Dueling Barrels.'"

Envision the connotations of that, he said, with Dukes of Hazzard and the Hatfields and McCoys and duels — "brought to you by Alltech."

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl.

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