While there were plenty of word puns and ceremonial dirt tossed about Friday morning at Good Day Farm Arkansas' groundbreaking ceremony, inside their facility, Clark Contractors' employees were already hard at work.
"Grow, grow, grow," said Mayor Shirley Washington to a crowd of about 60 outside the state licensed cannabis facility at 3300 N. Hutchinson St.
Like the others, Washington talked about the company's $50 million initial investment and the 200 jobs it's bringing to the area.
The jobs will average $19 an hour, with an annual payroll and benefits of approximately $9.4 million.
More than a medical boost, this is an economic boost to the area, she said.
Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson spoke after the mayor.
"I see Pine Bluff growing. ... However you feel about medical marijuana, it's here to stay," Robinson said.
Alex Gray, a Little Rock attorney and co-owner, said during the ceremony that "attitudes are changing, and medical marijuana is a better choice than many others."
Good Day Farm plans to keep on growing across the South with operations planned for Mississippi and Louisiana, and it has applied for a license in Georgia, said Eric Thornton, Good Day Farm co-owner.
NEW YEAR, NEW JOBS
The 42,000-square-foot facility is inside the Jefferson County Industrial Park and, according to Thornton, plans are to start hiring employees in January.
They will possibly host a job fair in February, he said.
The jobs will range from licensed heating and air conditioning personnel to electrical and experienced cultivators to training-on-the-job positions.
"Each will be different. This is an opportunity for training, a career, not just a job," Thornton said.
The Pine Bluff location will grow, as well as harvest and cure the cannabis, and operate a kitchen designed for extraction and the production of edibles, a way of ingesting marijuana without smoking it.
In addition, the facility will need administrative assistants, drivers, security personnel and more, he said.
Thornton said he isn't worried about a local labor shortage and expects to heavily draw from Pine Bluff, White Hall and other nearby communities, as well as Little Rock and southeast Arkansas.
"There are people who want to work in this industry," Thornton said.
At some point in the future, they hope to offer training to individuals who perhaps worked on the illegal side of the cannabis trade, he said.
They also plan to partner with the Southeast Arkansas College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in the development of classroom training and more, said Nate Steel.
UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander, who also attended the event, said that as a land-grant institution, cannabis fits the university's mandate.
"Our mission is to be involved with agriculture," adding that he expects UAPB could get involved in much-needed cannabis research and classroom education, and even offer cannabis field-related internships to UAPB students.
"We want to be involved. We look forward to our role and working with them," Alexander said.
This is the second grow facility to locate in Jefferson County, with the first being Natural State Medicinals near White Hall. Arkansas has eight licensed grow facilities.
Good Day Farm received approval last month from the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission to purchase Natural State Wellness Enterprises of Newport and to move the operation to Pine Bluff, according to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.
"For us, this is an investment in the community," Thornton said.