The Morning Call reports…The research alliance — yet to be formalized, both universities emphasized — would seek a federal “center of excellence” designation giving it first dibs on some pots of U.S. Department of Agriculture funding. It also hopes to establish a relationship with international companies that own the distinctive harvesting equipment and processing technology needed to develop a commercially viable market — which in turn could attract established businesses, entrepreneurs and investors who are interested in the industry but remain on the sidelines.

It could ultimately deliver an economic boon for the Lehigh Valley and southeastern Pennsylvania. Geoff Whaling, president of the Pennsylvania Hemp Industry Council and chairman of the National Hemp Association, led a coalition earlier this month to Europe, where it made a business pitch to HempFlax, a multinational processing company based in the Netherlands that has an eye on the U.S. market.

The company appreciated the holistic approach Lehigh and its partners are taking, said Cameron McCoy, assistant vice president of economic engagement at Lehigh. Rather than merely selling equipment, HempFlax could gain from the alliance’s research endeavors as well as its relationship with existing manufacturers in the region.

Whaling, of Berks County, said the company needs at least 3,000 acres of hemp to make an investment worthwhile. He’s hoping to get commitments from regional farmers by the Jan. 19 deadline for state pilot program research proposals to show that the alliance is more than just talk and can support a proposed industrial hemp research park in Upper Saucon Township.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am for Pennsylvania and its farmers,” Whaling said. “We have farmers with anywhere from two acres to 750 acres who have expressed interest, and the list keeps growing. But we are trying to move quickly.”

HempFlax did not respond to a request for comment.