COBLESKILL — SUNY Cobleskill plans to lease a parcel of land on the north side of I-88 to host a massive commercial greenhouse operation, which after three years could provide as many as 100 new jobs.
The college has signed a preliminary agreement with Chobe Advisers, a New York City-based consultancy that oversees development projects, to lease space for Chobe to construct three indoor growing facilities.
SUNY Cobleskill President Marion Terenzio outlined the project in an interview this week, highlighting the planned use of high-tech agricultural and energy practices and the opportunity students will have to observe and work in the operation.
“Agriculture still is a leading economic engine here that we still have to do more, we can do more, not just with greenhouses but the work faculty are doing for next-generation farming,” Terenzio said. “This fits perfectly.”
Louis Ferro, a Chobe partner, said Chobe is still pursuing approval for various state and federal incentives, including becoming a Start-Up NY company with the public college.
Some incentive packages are already in place for what could be a $60 million project, Ferro said. The project was recently approved under a New York State Energy Research and Development Agency program.
Ferro said construction on the first of three growing facilities could begin as early as March or April and take six months to be completed. Within three years, a second and third facility would be built as well, with final growing facilities totaling 290,000 square feet; each growing facility would be about the size of an average Walmart store.
After the three-year build-up, Ferro said, the operation would employ 75 to 100 people earning salaries 150 percent of the area’s median wage. Jobs would include truck drivers and packing workers and also greenhouse managers, biologists and farming specialists.
The company that will develop and manage the growing operation will be called ESG and be owned by Chobe, Ferro said.
The greenhouses will be designed as net-zero energy users, relying on power from solar, geothermal and a biogas digester, which produces energy by breaking down organic material. The water used in the system will be recycled back through as well.
Cobleskill students will get exposure to the greenhouse operation through tours and internships and potentially paying jobs.
“We can benefit from their expertise and hiring students,” Ferro said of partnering with the college.
The greenhouses will be used to grow winter greens, herbs and other vegetables and will include special infrastructure to grow mushrooms, said Jason Evans, who manages the school’s Start-Up NY program.
Chobe and the college have not yet signed a final lease agreement, but Ferro said the project is far along in the process. The college will have to put the Start-Up NY application up for public review and host a public meeting on the project in the coming months. But Ferro said he expects the project to start generating revenue in the fourth quarter of the year.
“I have a feeling once it starts, it’s going to go fast,” Terenzio said of construction.