NORTHAMPTON — A small crowd gathered on Ladd Avenue Tuesday afternoon to welcome a new occupant to the neighborhood’s empty, former gun-manufacturing facility: a marijuana cultivator.
“It has been years in the making,” said Charlotte Hanna, founder of Community Growth Partners, the company behind the operation, briefly tearing up as she spoke.
The cannabis cultivation business has been taking over old manufacturing spaces across the region, including purchases of mill buildings in Northampton and nearby Holyoke. Hanna, a former vice president at Goldman Sachs and real estate investor, already owns the Rebelle dispensary in Great Barrington and said she hopes to be growing weed at the 23,000-square-foot former Yankee Hill Machine building at 20 Ladd Ave. later this year.
According to property records, the building is owned by Atelier LLC, a real estate holding company managed by Christian Hawkins and Rebekah Brooks of Northampton. Yankee Hill Machine moved to Easthampton in 2017.
Hanna said her company’s aim is to be an “equitable capitalist venture” that seeks “to do something that makes money but also does some good.” She has committed to hire staff from the harm reduction nonprofit Roca, which works to offer education, counseling and job training to “high risk” youth in the region. She said that partnership will give work to those negatively impacted by marijuana criminalization, and that she intends to give all employees a chance to earn stock in the company.
“They believe in work and learning through work and so do I,” Hanna said of Roca, noting that youth in the organization would be working on building construction at the facility and eventually in manufacturing.
In a statement, Christine Judd, Roca’s western Massachusetts director, said that the organization, which partners with businesses willing to hire those impacted by violence, is interested in helping heal communities affected by the drug trade.
“When Roca was founded in 1988, we frankly would never have imagined a future in which one of our employment pathways for young people would be the marijuana industry,” Judd said. “But while we are clear of the ways that both legal and illegal drugs have negatively impacted poor communities, we are thrilled by the prospect of providing job security, business experience, and a supportive work environment to young people.”
Speaking ahead of the groundbreaking event, Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz praised the new facility for bringing 50 jobs and tax revenue to the community, partnering with Roca and making use of an old building in the city.
“I’m proud to be here and proud to welcome them to the community,” he said.
Narkewicz said that Community Growth Partners was an applicant through the state’s “economic empowerment” program, which is meant to ensure that communities disproportionately harmed by marijuana law enforcement are able to join the lucrative new industry in Massachusetts.
In a “positive impact plan” the company submitted to the state’s Cannabis Control Commission last year, Community Growth Partners said it would take several steps to “economically empower those populations most impacted by said criminalization.”
Among those steps: committing 3% of annual net profits to a criminal justice program, which in its first year will pay legal fees for at least five people to have criminal cannabis charges expunged from their records; matching donations of up to $500 from employees to charities in areas of disproportionate impact; and hosting monthly “cannabis 101” education seminars “for local community members to learn and ask questions about the many uses and health benefits of cannabis, the history of its criminalization, (and) the impact criminalization has had on certain communities.”
The company also provides more detail about its profit-sharing program in the document, noting that its goal is to share 10% of annual profits in a year-end bonus to “employees from our local communities with a minimum of 1 year of employment and good performance feedback.” Employees can elect to receive those bonuses in cash or in stock, the plan says.
One of Roca’s members set to work at the new facility is Andreea Peguese of Springfield.
“This is a very good opportunity for young people,” Peguese said in brief remarks before those gathered Tuesday. “People coming from the streets like me.”
Hanna said that Peguese and others will first work internships for the company, with the hope of coming on board full time after that.
Judd said that the two interns currently working at Rebelle in Great Barrington make minimum wage. One Roca member is working for Community Growth Partners full time at the moment and makes above minimum wage, Judd said, adding that the company has already committed to bringing on 10 full-timers from Roca at Rebelle.
“I’m such a huge believer in human capital,” Hanna said at the event.
Dusty Christensen can be reached at [email protected]