"Walsenburg is basically an old coal mining community," says mayor James Eccher. "Probably the main industry right now is welfare. We do have a lot of smart kids that have come out of this town. The biggest problem is that there's nothing here to keep them. Nothing to entice them to come back."
Walsenburg—a rural town located 160 miles south of Denver— has seen hard economic times since it's coal mines shut down in the 1960s. Nearly 20 percent of the county's residents live below the poverty line. The town hoped the construction of the Huerfano County correctional facility in the early 2000s would alleviate some of its financial woes, but the prison shut down in 2010 and with it hopes of an economic recovery.
As the town struggled with financial hardship, a Denver contractor named Brian Trani was noticing a trend with customers looking to build expensive, energy consuming cannabis grows.
"A lot of our clients were immediately priced out of the buildings or the indoor operations that we built for them because they were telling us to take a few hundred thousand dollars and block out a perfectly good environment and then take out another few hundred thousand dollars and recreate it," says Trani. "It didn't take long for us to realize that the only reason people were growing indoors was prohibition."
So Trani, who owns Martra Holdings, drew up plans to build an all-inclusive marijuana greenhouse campus to lease to cannabis growers. He and his team took hundreds of factors into consideration for optimal grow and found 332 acres in Walsenburg that would be an ideal location to build the facility.
"You get to dramatically reduce costs and dramatically increase production because of the climate," states Trani.
The site is expected to include 15,000 square feet of greenhouse space with 500 employees working at the site.
Walsenburg has embraced the project, which started construction in early November, and sees the greenhouse campus as a way to revitalize the town's economy. Where other cities like Denver have acted to place strict regulations on marijuana grows, Walsenburg has made the decision to deregulate the process.
"We have a good forward thinking council in that we see that there is a need and it's going to happen," says Eccher. "Why can't it happen to us?"
Trani says the cities decision to "unadministrate" the process will make things simple for growers. "Down here with them streamlining everything it takes the entire red tape out of the process for the tenants."
Walsenburg has also made the decision to not collect taxes on growers' yield. Instead, they plan on making revenue by selling water that the town owns to the greenhouse facility. By removing red tape and partnering with the cannabis industry, the city hopes to attract 1,000 jobs to the area and add much needed revenue to the economy.
"It could bring us a million a month into the city," says Eccher. "I think that's what's going to help save Walsenburg."
"We want to prove the state's model for cannabis," says Trani. "We want to show that you can take a depressed economic region and through the use of excise tax get that region back up to where it needs to be."
Approximately 7 minutes.
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