Johnstown

FMCC, E29 Labs sign partnership meant to help develop future cannabis-industry workforce 

E29 Labs CEO Shelly Roberts and FMCC President Dr. Greg Truckenmiller sign agreement papers as they announce the partnership for the planned facility in Canajoharie, in Johnstown on Thursday, February 17, 2022.

E29 Labs CEO Shelly Roberts and FMCC President Dr. Greg Truckenmiller sign agreement papers as they announce the partnership for the planned facility in Canajoharie, in Johnstown on Thursday, February 17, 2022.

JOHNSTOWN — When Selwyn Roberts, 73, was a young father in Harlem, he sold pot as a side hustle to help support his family.

“For a new immigrant like my father you had to fight to survive,” said his daughter Shelley Roberts. “I’m not going to lie, cannabis was a part of it. But in his core, he knew that Harlem street life was not the ultimate path for him.”

Roberts said her father, who came to the U.S. from Trinidad roughly 50 years ago, stressed the importance of education and was particularly focused on making sure that she and her brother, Sheldon, had opportunities that Selwyn did not.

“Ultimately, he was able to legitimize himself so my brother and I would have a father who could stay in our lives to love and protect us from the dangers of society that he had adeptly navigated,” Roberts said. “He provided my brother and I with a platform to further our education beyond his own. He persisted in realizing his dream of sending us to college, and my brother and I are the first generation in our family to do so.” 

Now, thanks to an educational partnership announced Thursday, Roberts and her brother will be helping to deliver educational and career opportunities in New York state’s burgeoning cannabis industry. 

Roberts is the chief executive officer of E29 Labs, a cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facility that is on track to begin operations in Canajoharie out of the former Beech-Nut baby food plant, which has been vacant as a result of the company relocating to the Town of Florida in 2010. On Thursday, E29 and SUNY Fulton-Montgomery Community College signed an educational partnership agreement that will allow the college to expand cannabis-related curriculum and enrollment. The college currently offers three individual studies certificates and one micro-credential within the cannabis field. 

The agreement points to the continued legitimization and growth of the cannabis industry in the state following the March 2021 signing of New York State’s Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act, legalizing adult-use cannabis.

“The regulated cannabis industry has finally arrived in New York. It took its time in coming, but it is here, and it is going to flourish,” Roberts said. “What I and so many others have discovered is that regulated cannabis, far from being a ‘gateway drug,’ can be a gateway to success.”  

Greg Truckenmiller, the college’s president, said FMCC has a long history of partnering with local employers to create educational programming, whether in the leather industry 40 years ago, or in the healthcare field more recently. He said the partnership with E29 is another step forward. 

“This is just the latest example of the college pivoting and reacting to what is happening in the region and looking for ways that we can support what is happening in our area and produce highly skilled student workers for those businesses,” Truckenmiller said.

The details of how and when the partnership will operate in practice are still being fine-tuned–especially as E29 continues to await state approval before it can develop the east side of the old Beech-Nut site for its planned 19-acre facility–but the partnership is expected to support and grow the curriculum that already exists at FMCC.

The current cohort of 40 students taking cannabis coursework began in the fall, with the first graduates expected this May, according to Daniel Fogarty, the college’s associate dean of Academic and Student Affairs.  

As more sites open up like E29, we will then be able to grow the program and allow more students to join,” Fogarty said. “The more training partners we have, the more we can expand.”

The college’s current offerings related to the cannabis industry include a certification for a cultivation technician that teaches students how to perform duties related to the tending of plants, including watering, potting, training, and movement of plant materials. The college also offers a certification for quality assurance lab technicians in the cannabis industry, teaching students how to assist the manufacturing team in the production of cannabis-based medicines in a clean lab environment. Hydroponics and career success classes are part of both programs.

Sheldon Roberts, E29’s president, said E29 plans to employ about 100 workers with the first phase of its project and eventually grow that total to upwards of 500 after the completion of the second phase, which is expected to expand the cultivation and manufacturing operations to include a cannabis education facility and event space. Sheldon Roberts said he envisions E29 working with FMCC to provide students with on-site training, mentoring and internships.

Shelley Roberts said cannabis companies in New York will employ professions ranging from data scientists and lab technicians to logistics specialists and horticulturalists to lawyers, accountants, mechanics and supply-chain experts.

“At my organization alone, we expect to employ all of these roles and more as we rebuild the former Beech-Nut site and bring long overdue economic development and solid jobs back to this community,” Roberts said. 

Roberts has a professional background that includes leadership roles in the footwear, transportation and property management industries, and she has started two New York City-based transportation companies, including a medical transportation company. Sheldon Roberts’ background is in property management. 

Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said he’s optimistic about what the E29 Labs project and its partnership with FMCC can mean for the county. 

“We’re very excited about E29’s investment because it will revitalize a critical component of the local economy in Canajoharie and have a broader economic impact on the county as a whole,” Ossenfort said. “This partnership with E29 will ensure young people in our area continue to be well-equipped for industry-leading careers. E29’s investment will mean good-paying jobs that will help people build careers and enable more people to build their lives in Montgomery County.”

Village of Canajoharie Mayor Jeff Baker said he had some reservations when he first heard about the project several years ago. But after touring a Massachusetts facility owned by Michael Dundas–who is the vice president of E29 Labs and has been involved since 2013 in the cannabis industry in Massachusetts, where he has served on the Cannabis Advisory Board since 2017– Baker was convinced.

“It was very impressive. Everything is monitored, there is a lot of surveillance, and it was technically grown in water and stuff like that. It changed my opinion,” Baker said. Now he is very much onboard with E29 coming to the village.

“If the boat is going by and you don’t grab a piece of it, the next community will,” Baker said.

Selwyn Roberts said he has been encouraging his kids to get involved in the cannabis industry ever since seeing the earliest signs that pot would become legal in the U.S.

“I said, ‘look, you’ve got to get on this.’” Still, the younger version of himself who sold pot illegally in Harlem never would have imagined that his children would be leading entrepreneurs in the state’s regulated cannabis industry.

“I’m so excited and proud of them,” Selwyn Roberts said. “It’s mind-blowing.”

Sheldon Roberts said he and his family exemplify the American dream.

“I think it’s an American story,” he said. “It’s endearing for somebody like my father to be able to watch and participate and, especially, to see his own children be able to be in this industry. It’s amazing, and it’s a story the industry needs.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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