In 2019, Williams Lake First Nation received a $250,000 grant from Northern Development through the Economic Diversification Infrastructure program towards this $1,100,000 project. This has been a funding partnership of Northern Development
2019 – After devastating wildfires during the summers of 2017 and 2018 in the Cariboo- Chilcotin/Lillooet area, the economy experienced a downturn in the forestry industry and the overall loss of approximately 520 jobs.
In response to the impact of the fires, the Williams Lake Indian Band (WLIB) examined different opportunities to diversify the local economy. In March 2019, WLIB opened a cannabis retail location – Indigenous Bloom. Based on the immediate success of this business, the Band opted to pursue the construction and operation of a craft cannabis cultivation facility on WLIB IR#6 in Williams Lake. This cultivation facility is the next step of WLIB’s involvement in the cannabis industry.
“Cannabis retail is already something we’re pursuing, so the logical extension of this initiative is cannabis cultivation,” said Kirk Dressler, economic development officer for WLIB. “There are few industries which offer similar opportunities for economic return and employment.”
In 2019, WLIB successfully applied to Northern Development for a $250,000 grant under the Economic Diversification Infrastructure funding program, which provides funding to support major infrastructure projects in order to strengthen the local economy. The project has an overall budget of approximately $1.1 million and is expected to be complete by the spring of 2020.
“WLIB made the decision to construct this facility because it is a key component of our strategy for economic development/economic diversification,” said Dressler. “Historically, WLIB has been reliant on forestry and other resource-based activities. It’s clear that if WLIB is to survive and thrive, we need to have new industries and revenue streams, and we need to broaden the opportunities for employment and capacity development.”
This operation will be a “micro cultivation” facility, which allows the producer to grow up to 650-kilograms of cannabis a year. WLIB will also be promoting a new form of “cannabis tourism” where consumers can visit facilities where their products are produced, similar to wine production or craft brewing.
This project falls directly in line with WLIB’s Comprehensive Community Plan. In the plan, the Band committed to an agricultural plan including agricultural zoning, skills training and development, a community garden, branding and marketing, viability assessment and others. The construction of the greenhouse for production of cannabis falls in line with the community’s goal to create diverse employment and business opportunities to ensure band members have access to jobs.
“The economics of the cannabis cultivation facility are very strong and the potential for long term employment is excellent,” said Dressler. “During the construction phase, there will be a core crew of six that will be employed fulltime for approximately six months. Subcontracts will employ as many as 12 others on a part-time basis during this construction phase.”
When operational, Dressler says the cultivation facility will employ seven to nine people full-time. There will be a master grower, plus personnel in harvesting, quality control and administration.
This facility will serve as the central ‘campus’ for cultivation, with expansion of cultivation facilities expected to occur in subsequent phases. In the future, there will be additional employment and opportunities generated by creating this initial engine of cannabis production.