CANAJOHARIE — Operators of the proposed cannabis business at the old Beech-Nut site spelled out in more detail this week both how the business will work, and what job opportunities will look like for local residents.
Up to 500 workers could be employed at the site by the third phase of the rollout, and those jobs — ranging from management and inventory positions to lab techs and agricultural experts — will come mostly with daytime hours and benefits.
Representatives of E29 Labs met with community members, as well as federal, state, county, village officials and business leaders Thursday to familiarize the community with what they are planning to do at the old baby food manufacturing plant at Exit 29 on the Thruway. Specific attention focused on the impact on the village of Canajoharie.
Most of the jobs at the plant, ranging from entry-level through higher-skilled employees will mostly be full-time and workers will be trained in their specialties. The multi-year plan calls for 125 jobs in phase one, with an additional 150 added in phase two, and another 125 in the third phase.
“I think there is a wonderful opportunity here for synergy with the community in that respect,” said attorney Michael Dundas, vice-president at E29. He has experience with other similar projects in Massachusetts.
The facility will use a mix of manual and mechanical labor, he said, though he said he expects human hands to remain integral to marijuana cultivation. He expects automation in some instances, but noted that “cannabis plants and flowers are a particular thing,” the cultivation of which — especially at the highest quality level — requires a human touch.
The porous, sticky nature of cannabis “makes it averse to mechanization in many ways,” he said.
Canajoharie Central School Board President Mark Brody asked whether the facility’s workforce will consist of locals. Preference will be given to local applicants, just as it was when Dundas was involved in both cannabis retail and production facilities in Massachusetts, he said.
The majority of the anticipated employees would work during daytime hours, information which answered a question from Janet Lee Stanley, Canajoharie-Palatine Chamber of Commerce president and owner of Lee’s
Shops at Wagner Square, who was interested in the possibility for ripple-effect commerce.
The plant’s existence, Dundas said, will “generate demand on certain expendable products,” including soil, pots, rubber gloves, furniture, pushcarts and computer equipment.
“There has developed in the cannabis industry an enormous … ancillary industry segment of folks that provide products and services to cannabis companies. I think that it’ll take the wherewithal of local entrepreneurs, but … there very well could be opportunities for ancillary businesses to sprout up,” locally, he said.
In Massachusetts, residents fears that cannabis businesses would attached heightened crime and reduced property values did not materialize, Dundas told Montgomery County Sheriff Jeffery T. Smith who asked: “Did you see any increase in crimes
or problems around your facility when you set up shop,” in Massachusetts?
“I’m happy to report that after six years of operation in MA, we haven’t seen any of those dire predictions come to fruition,” Dundas said.
In addition to the tax revenue benefit that the community would get, Mayor Jeff Baker was interested in other financial benefits. Dundas noted that in Milford, Massachusetts the company pays annually $100,000 to the municipality.
The company first had an interest in the location after siblings and company principals Sheldon and Shelley Roberts first got involved with hemp cultivation and the eventual purchase of 100 acres of property on Blaine Road.
E29 Labs has signed an exclusive development option with Montgomery County relating to the use of 19.6 acres — the eastern portion — of the Exit 29 site. That development option will convert to a purchase and sale pending agreement following a 12 month due diligence period.
The establishment of the marijuana cultivation and processing facility will cost approximately $25
“We’re going to be funding this thing out of our own pockets from here until permitting,” at which point a business plan will be issued with the goal of raising further funding,” Dundas said of his and the Roberts’ commitment.
Once the SEQRA process is completed the Canajoharie Planning Board will review a preliminary plan and make site plan recommendations to the Canajoharie Village Board, which will then determine whether or not to approve it.
Followed by final site plan creation and a public hearing, the planning board will make a final recommendation for approval to the village board.
State licensing occurs following local approvals, with operations at the Exit 29 site tentatively being expected to start in fall 2023.