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Lilu's Garden moving forward with plans for former Itron facility

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By Molly Haines

When Lilu’s Garden CEO Tom Guel’s mother was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, he and his business partner Charles Ciancanelli had only just begun working with CBD oils from a small lab in Colorado.
The tumor had formed on Guel’s mother’s pituitary gland, which had not only caused Agromagley — a disorder that causes the pituitary gland to produce too much growth hormone — but had also wrapped itself around an artery in her brain that could lead to blindness and eventual death.
“She was really worried,” Guel said. “She called me crying and said they wanted to put her on a chemo-type medicine and that it didn’t have a very good success rate. She tried it, and it made her really sick, so she calls crying again. She says, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Let’s try cannabis.’”
Guel and Ciancanelli went to work creating a CBD oil, which Guel’s mother began taking high doses of over the course of 30 days. According to Guel, the oil caused his mother’s symptoms to vanish, and within another 30 days, an MRI showed that the tumor was gone.
Hailing from Chicago, both Guel and Ciancanelli had worked various jobs — namely real estate development and restaurants and construction, respectively — the two men were constantly seeking ways to advance themselves.
Following the success of the CBD oil in treating Guel’s mother and growth in the cannabis industry, the next step was obvious.
“It set me and (Ciancanelli) on a path where not only is this something that we can hopefully make some money in but now it became a passion,” Guel said. “We just helped save my Mother’s life, it helped (Ciancanelli’s) sister who had cancer, and it pushed us down the path of, ‘How do we scale this to get this out to as many people as we can?’”
Founded in 2016, Lilu’s Garden — named for Guel’s daughter Lily whose nickname is Lilu — is a seed to shelf industrial hemp ingredient manufacturer. The business announced it would locate to Owenton’s former Itron facility in October, creating 150 jobs with salaries ranging from minimum wage to more than $100,000 per year.

Choosing Owen County

When asked why they chose Owen County for a processing facility, Guel was quick to respond.
“Kentucky is leading the charge for the legalization of the hemp industry,” Guel said. “The Midwest is where some of the best and most advanced farming is done in the country, up through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky — all around this area is where farming exists. Colorado is great, and we’ve had a great experience there, but there’s a lot of high desert there, and we feel like the Midwest is really where we should be to scale farming.”
Once Guel and Ciancanelli decided to begin a processing facility in Kentucky, a friend in the industry who previously looked at the Itron facility gave the pair a list of potential properties across the state.
The pair described their first visit to Owen County as the “warmest welcome” they’ve ever received.
“We hadn’t even started the walk-through (of the facility) when we met (Owen County Judge-Executive Casey Ellis),” Ciancanelli said. “First off, we wanted to make sure we were welcome before we started doing our due diligence and make sure an industrial hemp facility is wanted.”
The realtor on hand called Ellis, who Ciancanelli said showed up within five minutes.
Both Ciancanelli and Guel said Ellis offered unwavering support, adding that he could be credited with their decision to locate to Owenton.
“With his guidance, his welcome and his willingness to help us try to bring jobs to the community, that really cinched the deal right there,” Guel said. “We’re very grateful to have run into (Ellis) and to be in this location right now. If it weren’t for him, we might not be here.”
Additionally, both Guel and Ciancanelli agreed that the former Itron facility and its layout fit the business’ footprint “perfectly.”

Local jobs

Since the initial announcement, which included job fairs in November and December, Ciancanelli said progress has been slow with Thanksgiving and inclement weather across the U.S.
“We’ve had trucks stalled across the country with all the snow we’ve had,” Ciancanelli said. “Everything’s gotten pushed and held up on us, but we’re working.”
Last Thursday, the facility had just begun receiving office equipment. Additional equipment to begin the necessary training for employees had yet to arrive, but Ciancanelli said with the business’ directors of operation now on hand, planning for job fairs can soon begin.
Guel and Ciancanelli hope to begin processing by Jan. 1 but were still awaiting the approval of their processing license from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture last week.
“We’ve already gone through the first steps of getting the application delivered,” Ciancanelli said. “We have an orientation that’s coming up very soon in the early part of December. Once that’s all done, from my understanding, we can start processing and moving forward.”
Both Guel and Ciancanelli urge patience among those looking to apply for a job with Lilu’s Garden as they continue to receive equipment and make the facility functional.
When the time comes, Guel said a “now hiring” sign will be placed outside the facility, and jobs will be posted in The News-Herald and online in addition to the job fair.
“We’re gonna notify people in the coming weeks when to actually apply and post those job listings soon,” Guel said. “Have a little patience with us. We know everybody’s eager — they’ve reached out on LinkedIn, they call the office, they email, they call the newspaper, Ellis — we’re going to get there. We cannot run this facility with four people. We’re getting there. The equipment is basically almost here; we’re gonna put things together and then layout the applications.”