In Good Company
How a bet on cannabis production has turned Smiths Falls
into the Cannabis Capital of Canada
By Anna Guy
At first glance Smiths Falls, Ontario, may seem like a quintessential Eastern Ontario town with its United Empire Loyalist history, proximity to the Rideau Canal, and heritage homes that date back to its 18th Century roots.
Like other small towns, Smiths Falls has a blue-collar, industrial history; until recently, Smiths Falls was best known for being the home to the Canadian operation of the Hersey Company, which had operated in the town since the 1960s before closing shop and moving to Mexico in 2008. The closure left over 600 people out of a job and, in a town of about 9,000 people, the impact was far reaching. To compound the problem, the Rideau Regional Centre also closed, laying off another 800 people.
Though a difficult time, without doubt, Smiths Falls focused on the positive. The former mayor, Dennis Staples, said at the time, “Over the years, we’ve had other plants that have come and gone. Each time a plant has closed, something else has come along.”
Did it ever.
In 2014, Bruce Linton of medical marijuana company Tweed Marijuana Inc., made a phone call to Smiths Falls in hopes to turn the old Hershey factory in a cannabis production and operation facility. At the time, medicinal cannabis was a very new industry in Canada, but Smiths Falls saw that the potential in Linton’s vision. That confidence paid off: Smiths Falls was about to graduate from The Chocolate Capital of Ontario, to The Cannabis Capital of Canada.
The $250 million investment by Tweed, that started out as a 200,000 square foot facility has expanded beyond its quarters to 1 million square feet, and the promise of 150 employees has ballooned to 1,000 in a few short years. Construction is at full tilt in the town, for both residential and commercial developments. The company—officially renamed to Canopy Growth Corp.—has become the largest publicly-traded cannabis producers in the world, and was one of the best performers on the TSX in 2017, with returns of more than 250 percent. As the epicentre of the cannabis industry in the first G7 nation to legalize, Smiths Falls is attracting world wide attention.
“Canada is under the spotlight right now, and there is a great level of interest in the Tweed facility, which is an example of how production, from extraction to a laboratory to design product, can be facilitated in a single location,” says Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow.
The Smiths Falls Advantage
The Tweed effect has had a ripple effect through the town. Local business and tourism have increased, and the Town is looking to become an industry cluster by offering companies a prime location only a short drive to the nation’s Capital and the National Research Council (the centre of research and innovation in the country).
“Tweed compressed 10 years worth of expansion into three or four years,” says Mayor Pankow. “The impact on the local economy has been incredible. Young people are moving back to town. We just looked at our building permit revenues for this year are in excess of $2 million dollars, 15 times what we experienced in an average year.”
Manager of Economic Development, Jennifer Miller, says that the town of Smiths Falls’ staff and council have demonstrated their commitment to encouraging and fostering pioneering business concepts like these through every stage of business development. “Innovation is highly valued in Smiths Falls; we are an inventive community, we have reinvented ourselves on more than one occasion, so it seems natural that businesses with a similar innovative spirit would be drawn here.”
In Good Company
A succession of other pioneering initiatives have also found their way to Smiths Falls in recent years, drawn to the innovative spirit of the town. A relative newcomer to Smiths Falls is William Bond Ai, a cutting-edge business with its roots in the cannabis industry, and its eye on the future of artificial intelligence. Nate Morris, founder of William Bond Ai, explained that he believes in the coming years artificial intelligence is going to transform the way we buy, grow, and study cannabis.
Morris himself has been involved in the cannabis industry for 20 years, and decided that Smiths Falls, or as he calls it, the “Cannabis Capital,” was the ideal place to be to develop this technology. “Canopy is actively recruiting the best and brightest cannabis experts on Earth to Smiths Falls,” Morris said, “This influx of expertise into a relatively small town has resulted in a fun and exciting new culture developing. The synergistic capacity of a town like this to launch a bunch of businesses and new technologies is incredible. It feels like the new Silicon Valley for cannabis technologies.”
Another innovative newcomer to Smiths Falls is Cyclone Blowers. Owned and operated by inventor and entrepreneur, James Mackenzie, Cyclone Blowers manufactures an innovative commercial pull-type snow blower that Mackenzie claims will speed up the snow removal process by 25 per cent and burn 30 per cent less fuel.
UK-based yacht company Le Boat also recently set up headquarters in Smiths Falls, investing $16 million to launch its operations in Smiths Falls when the Rideau Canal opens for the season in May, “which creates huge impact on international tourism,” says Mayor Pankow. “We welcome both guests and media from all over the world. Through the media reports of Le Boat, we have reached 200 million people in just one season. So that kind of attention, and talk every week about our Tweed campus, have led to frequent visits from international delegates.”
Mayor Pankow says its been wonderful to see how others are showing their appreciation for the town. “One thing we appreciate is, once they visit, how newcomers view our town as a place that is just as conducive to business as it is to a vibrant lifestyle. One of our visitors said “There are so many friendly people in the world…they just all happen to be Canadian.”
Another visitor to Smiths Falls? Tweed wouldn’t be one of the world’s leading cannabis companies without an endorsement (and business partnership) from cannabis advocate Snoop Dogg, who performed in the town in 2018. “It was a very unique experience. Snoop Dogg was very accommodating and personable and showed a genuine interest in Smiths Falls and a desire to learn more about the impact Tweed has had on our community,” says Mayor Pankow. “It was great to have him perform at the Shindig.”
The performance was another display of the “the pioneering spirit that has withstood the test of time, is once again positioning Smiths Falls’ as a sought-after location for industry leaders and innovative entrepreneurs,” adds Miller.
“[Smiths Falls] is a progressive, open-minded community willing to embrace change even when it goes against traditional norms,” says Mayor Pankow. “I’m confident [perspective companies] recognize Smiths Falls as the community that truly stands out and is demonstrating that the benefits from changing attitudes and legislation on cannabis can be profound.”