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AUBURN

Inside cannabis company's Auburn plans: Jobs, products, timeline and more

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

Cannabis company Terrapin's plans to build a production facility in Auburn took a step forward Wednesday.

At a meeting that evening, the Auburn Industrial Development Authority unanimously approved a letter of intent from the Colorado-based company to purchase a 12-acre lot in the city's Technology Park and build a facility there. As authority board members noted, the approval opens the door for discussing with Terrapin a formal purchase option agreement for the lot.

Prior to the vote, questions from authority board members were answered by Nico Pento, the company's vice president of external affairs, who attended the meeting in person. 

One of the first questions concerned odor. Pento explained that Terrapin, which grows its marijuana indoors, has invested in researching and developing charcoal filtration systems that render the odor "virtually undetectable" outside the company's facilities. That's also one reason the company prefers to build its facilities rather than retrofit standing ones, he said in response to another question. 

"It's more cost-effective," Pento said, "and we find that it's actually better for the environment because we can make sure that we're building the most sustainable building possible."

When asked about the security of the facility, Pento said the company would use 24-hour video surveillance, fencing and in-person surveillance by VetForce, a veteran-owned security company Terrapin contracts with. He further explained that the Auburn facility would have little cash on hand since it won't be selling marijuana, just growing it and making products from it.

Additional details of Terrapin's Auburn plans were shared with The Citizen on Tuesday by Peter Marcus, the company's director of communications.

With one production facility in central Pennsylvania and plans for another in Hoboken, New Jersey, Terrapin began looking at building its next facility in New York shortly after the state passed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation in March, Marcus said. An Ithaca College graduate, he added with a laugh that he tried to guide the company toward the Finger Lakes.

His love for the region aside, Marcus believes its water bodies and agricultural tradition make it "ripe for development." Then, during its research, Terrapin came across the city of Auburn.

"When we looked into it, we found a welcoming community that was accommodating, had property that fit our needs and shared our values as a company," Marcus said. "We looked at a handful of other cities, we considered Rochester and Syracuse, but we drove into Auburn, had our meetings and walked away saying this was the city for us."

Marcus stressed that Terrapin's plans are still preliminary. The company does not yet have a budget for its Auburn production facility, but he noted that buildouts of comparable scale cost between $20 million and $30 million. Nor is Terrapin ready to discuss applying for economic assistance, such as tax credits or a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with the city, he said.

The timeline for the facility is also uncertain. At best, Marcus said, it would open in two years. But along with building the facility, the company faces another obstacle in the state's Office of Cannabis Management. It must finalize the state's rules and regulations for licensing production facilities like Terrapin's, among other parts of the new state law, before the company can proceed.

Marcus said it's possible Terrapin could proceed with medical cannabis production in the meantime, but that wouldn't be viable due to the limited number of dispensaries selling it in New York.

People who use marijuana for medical purposes in New York will benefit from its greater recreational availability here, Marcus continued. Terrapin plans to be a part of that, producing vape cartridges, pre-rolled joints, salves and more. The only marijuana product the company doesn't make is edibles, but they're "something for New York that we'll explore at the very least."

Making those products in Auburn would be a workforce of about 100 people. Jobs would include harvesting and cultivation crews who grow, care for and harvest the facility's marijuana plants, as well as laboratory, production, packaging, maintenance, administrative and other full-time positions. Marcus said most of them would pay at least $20 an hour.

He also expects the facility to grow. Terrapin's Pennsylvania facility has expanded three times in three years, he said, from 40 to more than 100 employees.

"You make more of a difference when you go to these more rural pockets, more impact in terms of economic development," Marcus said. "People who want to work and enjoy the job."

Peter Marcus

Peter Marcus

Terrapin hopes to have a similarly positive effect on the Auburn community.

In announcing its plans for the facility, the company said it will work with local organizations and leaders on matters of diversity, equity and inclusion; the opioid epidemic; sustainability and beautification; and poverty and food scarcity. Marcus said that work could take the form of Terrapin employees volunteering in the community, the company making donations to nonprofits, and even Terrapin representation on local boards of directors, if asked when the opportunity arises. Marcus has himself sat on a few boards, for prisoner reentry and voter registration groups.

The company is already working with one local nonprofit in Nick's Ride 4 Friends, Marcus said. The mission of the recovery organization is meaningful to him, as he has a brother struggling with opioids. Citing (disputed) studies that legal marijuana can lead to lower prescription rates and other measures of opioid abuse and addiction, Marcus said the company could work with the nonprofit to communicate those benefits to the people it helps. Terrapin could also organize job fairs, resume and interview workshops with Nick's Ride and other local nonprofits.

Marcus understands that despite the warm welcome Terrapin has received from the community, some might have reservations about a cannabis production facility being built in Auburn. He said the company is happy to answer questions through the contact information on its website, terrapin.co, and a community liaison is among the positions it hopes to hire in the near future.

"Terrapin is an open book," Marcus said. "We don't ever want to force our way into a community. We want it to be a welcoming process, and so far that's what we've seen in Auburn."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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I edit The Citizen's features section, Lake Life, and weekly entertainment guide, Go. I've also been writing for The Citizen and auburnpub.com since 2006, covering arts and culture, business, food and drink, and more.

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