‘This could really change people’s lives in Merritt,’ says Emerald executive vice-president’
Members of the company first learned about Meyer in a Canadian Press story on whether marijuana had the potential to revitalize small towns hit hard by resource job losses. In the 2017 article, Meyer said he hoped a cannabis company would create jobs in the community.
“It just resonated with us as a group as we read that article, that this could really change people’s lives in Merritt,” said Jeff Hancock, executive vice-president of Emerald.
“I think that’s really what Arnold Meyer symbolizes to us as a company.”
Emerald also hopes to contact others formerly employed by Tolko. There are many transferable skills from mill work to cannabis and other skills can be learned, Hancock said, adding that the company had good conversations with city staff and plans to put in its formal application soon.
It aims to break ground in the second quarter of 2019 and plans to start production in the second or third quarter of the following year, he said.
‘It can’t be anything but good’
Newly elected Merritt Mayor Linda Brown said some younger Tolko employees left town to work at other mills run by the company or seek other employment, while some older employees found themselves retiring earlier than planned.
Brown said she still has questions for Emerald, including whether the jobs will pay well, but she expects to support an application when it’s put forward.
“We need industry. We need developments in there. That’s what I got elected on, was that kind of a platform, developing the city,” she said.
The mill closure devastated the community and any company that wants to bring in jobs is welcome, said former mayor Neil Menard.
“It’s a whole different industry for us. I don’t know much about it. I hope it would pay good wages and good benefits,” he said. “It can’t be anything but good.”
Tolko did not return a request for comment but said in 2016 a lack of timber supply forced it to close the mill. The union that represented the employees declined comment.
Emerald is a Health Canada-licensed producer that already has a facility in Montreal. Hancock and others with the company have energy industry backgrounds and have developed ways to reduce the energy costs associated with cannabis, he said.
Merritt also provided the company with the “unicorn land” it had been seeking, in terms of zoning, size and energy assets, Hancock added.
Meyer was skeptical when Emerald first contacted him but now he’s looking forward to meeting company representatives in Merritt soon, he said.
Asked how it felt to be part of their inspiration for the project, Meyer laughed.
“My chest got big and my head started to swell and I got a bunch more feathers in my hat,” he joked.