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How our central PA economy has been bolstered by marijuana production

As Pennsylvania considers recreational sales of marijuana, the cannabis experience we’ve had in Clinton County proves relevant to the debate.

I serve as president of the Chamber of Commerce in rural, Clinton County. What I like most about our area is that we’re a pretty tightly knit community. We tend to be a bit traditional and actually take some pride in that. So, when we were approached five years ago by a Colorado-based marijuana company looking to establish a medical marijuana grower/processor operation just outside of Lock Haven, I really didn’t know what to think.

Initially, I was flooded by concerns, and struggled to take seriously the idea of a marijuana production facility in our community. Did we really want to hitch our wagon to a drug that remains illegal at the federal level and continues to face stigma across the country? It took a lot of education and a leap of faith to dive into the issue and consider the prospect of marijuana being grown, so to speak, in our backyard.

Our journey began with Terrapin, an industry leader eager to make a difference for Pennsylvanians with a medical marijuana card. Terrapin had a track record of success in other states, and concrete plans to boost the local economy in Clinton County. The company’s CEO, Chris Woods, went to college at nearby Penn State University and was intent on bringing jobs to the area. We listened closely to what he and his team had to say. We found they were a professional, mission-minded team committed to the manufacture of a quality, affordable medicinal product that has changed peoples’ lives. Importantly for our community, there also was a commitment to local job creation, long-term workforce development, and being a good neighbor.

Through Terrapin, we got to better understand the marijuana industry. Meetings were held with business and community leaders, elected officials, local police, and the district attorney. Terrapin’s CEO and principals walked us through the cultivation and formulation processes, showing how medical marijuana can be produced to help a variety of conditions. We were moved by the stories from parents whose children saw remarkable benefits in treating seizures. We heard from seniors about how marijuana assisted with debilitating conditions like arthritis and glaucoma. And learning about how medical marijuana helps veterans with PTSD was eye-opening, especially as an alternative to opioids.

As Chamber president, I couldn’t help but be excited about the potential for economic and workforce development. Terrapin would be hiring 35 local workers from our region to start, with plans to expand within three years. A facility that had sat dormant for years would suddenly become a hub of activity.

Flash forward a year and Terrapin had received all of the regulatory approvals to secure one of the original grower/processor licenses in the state. The brownfield site underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation using local contractors, an investment that had a positive ripple effect through the community.

Terrapin then turned its attention to hiring. They recognized that our region had a high number of veterans who were struggling to find work. Terrapin held a job fair at the local VFW Post to recruit veterans for open positions. About 300 people attended, highlighting the level of enthusiasm from the community and the desire to bring the benefits of the marijuana economy to our region. Terrapin also helped start VetForce, a company owned and operated by veterans, to handle security and transportation needs at the new facility.

Today, Terrapin is working through an expansion of their manufacturing operation that will double capacity in order to meet high product demand. It’s another $6 million infusion into our region. Again, the company is using local contractors for the expansion and has doubled the number of jobs at the facility.

The commitment to improving the quality of life in our county doesn’t end there. Terrapin has given generously to upgrade Veteran’s Park – a space that pays tribute to veterans of all branches and eras of service – contributing $25,000 to refurbish a memorial area that is a centerpiece in our community.

My evolution in the marijuana industry isn’t unique. I hear and read about it often. Building on the success of the state’s medical marijuana program, a Franklin & Marshall poll released last fall indicates that 58 percent of Pennsylvania voters now support adult-use recreational sales.

Based on our experience, I would encourage state policy-makers to be open to discussion of the issue. Terrapin Pennsylvania has found a good home in Clinton County, and we’re proud to call them a partner with us on a path to even greater economic revitalization and sustainable growth.

Mike Flanagan is the president of the Clinton County Economic Partnership/Chamber of Commerce in Lock Haven.

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