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Medical marijuana industry rewarding manufacturing workers who lost prospects when companies left

Posted: 10:05 AM, Aug 26, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-26 18:06:45-04
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SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — After 20 years of steady decline in manufacturing jobs and manufacturing companies around Summit County, workers who would have filled those positions are finding new opportunities in the medical marijuana industry.

The heavily secured walls that house medical marijuana cultivation and processing facilities also hold opportunities for people like Jacki Faught.

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The canister at the top left is where raw marijuana flower will go in so that oils can be extracted for products like soft gels, vape cartridges, and gummies.

"I was trying to search, figure out what I wanted to do with my life and I went to tons of dead-ends," said Faught.

She got out of the Army in 2015 and had trouble figuring out what to do next.

"I tried a bunch of different things but nothing seemed to work out as well as it did when I came here," said Faught, referring to the Cleveland School of Cannabis, where she is studying horticulture.

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Jacki Faught while she was in the Army. She left in 2015 and bounced around from job to job until she started classes at the Cleveland School of Cannabis in November 2018.

"I think it's really needed," said Vireo Health Ohio General Manager Marie Walchalk. "We've seen too many companies go under."

She worked in manufacturing and printing for about 20 years watching as more than 200 companies shut down in Summit County, putting thousands of people out of work.

Manufacturing Jobs in Summit County (Ohio Department of Job and Family Services)

200143326
200337615
200537023
200734957
200928617
201128872
201329713
201529524
201728816
201828805

"It's getting jobs for people that have missed out," said Walchalk.

Now, Walchalk found her way to running Vireo Health's medical marijuana processing facility in Akron.

Only about 100 people are employed in the medical marijuana industry in Summit County, barely putting a dent into the thousands of jobs that left over time.

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The inside of processing facilities look very similar to science labs because of the equipment needed to create processed medical marijuana products.

But Walchalk says the experience she's looking for in new hires would be very familiar to anyone who spent part of their career in manufacturing plants.

"It's very much focused on details, consistency, things that I have been a part of for many years," said Walchalk.

Workers can train on the job or go to places like the Cleveland School of Cannabis.

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Workers get the inside of the facility ready for their first shipments of raw marijuana flower that are expected to start showing up this week.

"It's definitely a dream becoming a reality," said Cleveland School of Cannabis Director of Students Records and Retention Donelle Watson.

Of the programs 121 graduates in the first eight months that the medical marijuana program in Ohio has been active, at least 68 are already working in jobs in the industry.

Nearly all of those jobs were only created in the last year.

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Vireo Health's Akron location is inside a formerly-abandoned building, not only giving new opportunities to workers but also buildings that were left behind when manufactoring jobs steadily decreased.

"It's changing how we think about manufacturing jobs," said Watson. "It's changing how we think about retail jobs."

There should be more on the way.

In addition to the three cultivators in Summit County, there are two other processors and three dispensaries that are expected to open or expand in the next few months.