By Collin Gallant on April 16, 2018.
The sunniest city in Canada is getting the biggest medicinal marijuana production facility on earth — a growing, production and packaging facility the size of 21 football fields that will employ 450 Hatters as soon as next fall.
Officials with Aurora Cannabis Inc. were at city council’s Monday meeting where elected officials approved a $6.6-million break on development fees to help lure the major medicinal cannabis company to a local build.
Aurora CEO Terry Booth said construction that could cost $120 million would begin this spring and possibly produce its first crop, of up to 150,000 kilograms, next winter.
“Medicine Hat is going to have the best greenhouse in the world,” said Booth, who also estimated construction jobs in the 250 range.
“The technology that we’ll put forward and the investment that we’re putting forward will be very good for this municipality.
“This council and (administrators) came to us… and I’ve never seen anyone treat new business so well.”
The 1.2-million square-foot greenhouse would be the largest for the licensed medicinal marijuana company, which has million-square-foot facilities in Leduc and Denmark to extract and package cannabis oils and other products.
Mayor Ted Clugston said the announcement fulfills a huge want in the community to bring in a major employer and diversify the economy.
Discussions between the two sides began in the summer of 2017, with the result being a private land deal with the Box Springs Business Park Group, a city power sale and the discount on offsite levies, used to pay for road and pipe upgrades.
“This is massive and they will be fairly well paying jobs,” said Clugston, noting that at full operation, Aurora will become the largest private employer in Medicine Hat.
“Every election people say jobs, jobs, jobs … We negotiated very, very hard, and our staff worked hard to get the best deal for citizens and for Aurora so they would come here.
“We didn’t want to lose this to another municipality, and we worked extremely hard to land this deal.”
Booth said Medicine Hat’s attitude, ability to supply power, geographic location and natural sunshine (330 days each year according to city promotional material) made the deal.
“We did a very thorough search of municipalities in Canada and Europe,” said Booth. “You have more sun than Lemington (greenhouse capital of Ontario) … and this council and this mayor are progressive.”
Sources say jobs at the facility will provide a range of occupations, but with a low-end starting range of $20 per hour.
Clugston and Booth both said that what’s being proposed is much more than a typical low-wage greenhouse because of its pharmaceutical nature.
“These are jobs that people will want,” said Clugston.
The initial phase of the building will be 1.2 million square feet, with additional plans to add 300,000 more in a proposed second stage.
It could produce 150,000 kilograms of medical grade cannabis each year, requiring up to 42 megawatts of power, supplied be the city according to a prospective 10-year agreement included in a memorandum of understanding.
That’s the second major power sales agreement signed by the city in the last month, including a similar-sized agreement for a Hut 8 Cryptocurrency data processing centre.
In March, city-contracted economic developer Invest Medicine Hat told council that final negotiations were taking place with an undisclosed project.
“It’s been a lot of work behind the scenes bringing the two parties together,” said Invest head Ryan Jackson. “Once they got to the table… it moved rapidly.”
The Aurora facility would be located at the north end of the Box Springs Business Park, near the Canalta Centre, on land currently marketed as “unserviced industrial,” for sale at $50,000 per acre. Phase one would involve 57 acres.
The fee break relates to offsite levy charges to recover pipe and road construction to the new subdivision. The city already gives a 40 per cent break on such fees for new development across the city, and up to 90 per cent in some areas.
Recent economic reports state that Canadian Pacific Railway, with about 300 workers, is the largest local private employer, ahead of Goodyear and several retail and grocery stores reporting more than 200.
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