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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 22, 2020
As a fourth-generation farmer, Edwin Jewell has always known how to grow things, but even he didn’t see this coming — at least not this quickly.
The president and CEO of Figr East, the cannabis-production plant in Charlottetown’s BioCommons Research Park, unveiled this week an additional 210,000 square feet at the plant, a significant upgrade from the 24,000 square feet he had about two years ago.
To put things in perspective, the Figr East plant is now the size of about six football fields.
When he initially decided to take the plunge in January 2013, he told his wife it was a huge risk and if it didn’t work out they’d literally be living in a tent.
“It has probably exceeded what I had hoped our company could do,’’ Jewell told The Guardian on Wednesday after a brief ceremony at the plant to officially recognize the $66-million Phase 2 expansion.
Jewell started with four employees and now boasts a staff of more than 100 people. That number is expected to grow to nearly 200 by the end of this year, making Figr East one of the largest private-sector employers in the province.
“We put a lot of faith and trust in the team that we have put together here. I had high expectations when I started, as any business person does, but it’s turned out to even exceed my expectations.’’
It certainly didn’t hurt that the federal government legalized cannabis just 15 months ago.
“It has helped to increase the demand, create new customers and drive our company forward.’’
Health Canada recently approved the expanded footprint, which gives the plant 46,000 square feet for processing and other activities and 164,000 square feet for growing. The run rate is expected to be up to 28,000 kilograms per year.
However, upon receiving a separate license amendment from Health Canada, there is even more growth to come. The facility’s run rate is anticipated to increase to more than 43,000 kilograms annually and its footprint will total 332,000 square feet. That will be 35 times the amount that the company originally started to produce.
When Figr East advertises a job vacancy these days, it receives hundreds of applications. Employees start no lower than $15 per hour (province’s minimum wage is currently $12.25 and will jump to $12.85 in April) and receive full health benefits, at no cost, and a free gym membership.
Following is a breakdown of information on Figr East in Charlottetown:
- Currently employs more than 100 people and is expected to grow to nearly 200 after the expansion project is complete
- The first phase of the expansion is complete and Figr recently received Health Canada approval to operate within the additional 210,000 square feet of the Charlottetown facility. This brings the current operational footprint up to 234,000 square feet
- With this approval, the facility has 46,000 square feet for processing and other activities and 164,000 square feet for growing. The new run rate is expected to be up to 28,000 kilograms per year
- The second and final phase of the Figr East expansion is substantially complete. The total investment into Figr East to date is about $66 million
- Upon receiving a separate license agreement from Health Canada, the facility’s run rate is anticipated to increase to more than 43,000 kilograms annually, and its footprint will total 332,000 square feet
Jewell wouldn’t say whether the production facility is profitable at the moment, but he did say “we certainly will be profitable’’ adding they use a number of practices to reduce costs, such as natural air for ventilation, LED lights, shade cloth and recapturing water to help water plants.
“We’re in it for the long haul, and there’s no question that we’re on the right track.’’
Harvey Carroll, president of FIGR Brands Inc., said Figr started producing product for P.E.I. and Nova Scotia initially and has since expanded into the New Brunswick and Ontario markets. FIGR Brands Inc. owns the plant in Charlottetown and has a smaller one in Simcoe, Ont.
“We just added Ontario, and the reason we did that was because of the expansion of this facility,’’ Carroll said. “I would not have had enough product to effectively supply that (market). We know the (Figr) brand is well established here. We know it has a great opportunity across the country, so we need to make that happen.’’
Carroll said research will be vital going forward, not only in terms of what consumers are looking for now but what they’ll want down the road. Education is another key component for the company, both in terms of combatting the illicit purchase of cannabis and for those unfamiliar with the numerous products available on the legal market today.
Carroll said he wants to see an accelerated roll out of retail locations, saying that while P.E.I.’s population is clustered, meaning that everyone isn’t too far from a store, it’s a problem in Ontario where 24 stores serve a population of more than 14 million people. Franchises were granted by lottery so the Ontario stores aren’t all spread out. Carroll said no one is going to drive almost three hours to purchase cannabis products.
While the growth of cannabis is reaching levels never seen before, the retail industry on P.E.I. is blooming as well.
Zach Currie, director of operations for P.E.I. Cannabis Management Corp., said retail stores in the province began selling extracts, topicals and edibles in December, and beverages are coming soon.
While Figr is in the process of shipping cannabis in vape form, the sale of those products is not allowed on P.E.I. just yet.
“The province is still kind of determining, ultimately, what kind of approach they take on that front,’’ Currie said.
Currie added that having Figr East in their backyard has been invaluable since cannabis was legalized.
“I would say it has contributed a lot to the strategic growth of our operation. We leverage a lot of the expertise, insights and experience that these folks have in this market on the business development side.’’
P.E.I. Cannabis Management Corp. employs 60 people in retail stores across the province, and those stores are expected to begin turning a profit this fiscal year and start to contribute to government revenues apart from excise and HST revenue that is generated by the sale of cannabis.
“We’ll be able to contribute with a bottom-line number,’’ Currie said.
And, the politicians who were there for the grand unveiling this week were full of praise for Jewell.
“The Island is known for its farming, so it’s no surprise that Edwin has done this,’’ said Cardigan MP Lawrence MacAulay.
“Incredible story,’’ added Premier Dennis King. “It’s amazing what Edwin has done and the vision that he had.’’