Editorial: Casino, legal pot will lead to much-needed jobs in Pioneer Valley

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The newly legal recreational marijuana industry in Massachusetts, and the opening of the MGM Springfield resort casino later this year, are sure to have an impact on the regional economy.

While it will take a while to determine their long-term effect on the region’s economic health, one thing is for certain: both industries have hung out their help-wanted signs.

The voters in November 2016 approved a ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults. The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission is expected to issue its final regulations March 15, and to begin accepting applications April 1 for licensing marijuana businesses. Legal sales will start July 1.

Previously, the state authorized manufacture and sale of medical marijuana. Medical marijuana dispensaries will receive priority in the recreational pot licensing process, and they are already hiring.

In Athol, there already is the promise of a huge influx of jobs by the medical pot business.

Last fall, its Selectboard approved a letter of non-opposition for a medical marijuana nonprofit that wants to move into the old Union Twist Drill Co. building at 134 Chestnut Hill Ave. Becca Rutenberg of Herbology Inc. said they seek a cultivation, manufacturing and extraction facility in a secure location that will not serve as a retail setting. Herbology is a nonprofit organization and medical marijuana applicant with a provisional certificate from the state.

Herbology operates a 50,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art cultivation facility in Taunton, with other locations in Cambridge and Brockton. Herbology will offer a little more than 200 jobs, starting at $15 to $17 per hour, upon moving into 134 Chestnut Hill Ave., its owners have told the Selectboard. Frank Perullo, CEO of the Novus Group, which is handling Herbology’s public relations, said the facility could host 500 to 600 jobs if other license holders are brought in.

Chuck Hartwell, the new business development director for the building’s owner, said the facility will be used to produce nasal sprays, patches, ointments and oils.

Statewide, job growth is expected in cannabis testing as well. Massachusetts requires that medical cannabis be tested for contaminants by laboratories certified by the state Department of Public Health. Among those are the Massachusetts Cannabis Research Labs in Framingham, whose president and founder, Michael Kahn, said has grown from two to 18 full-time employees in recent years.

He said recreational marijuana likely will have similar testing requirements. “What we do expect is a change in volume, so we’re hiring more analysts and training them now so that we’re ready,” he said. “We draw from pharmaceutical, agricultural and environmental chemistry. We have to have a lab that combines elements from all different labs, and we train our analysts on a cross section of a whole lot of different disciplines.”

In Springfield, MGM is operating a career center at 1259 East Columbus Ave. to offer job information and assist applicants for employment. Besides table games dealers, MGM is hiring barbers, hair stylists and massage therapists, as well as food servers and more specialized employees such as a pastry chef and butcher.

The $960 million resort casino will include a hotel, spa, movie theater, bowling alley and restaurants, and 3,000 employees will keep it operating around the clock once it opens in September. According to MGM, the total compensation package for its workers, including tips and benefits, will average about $45,000 a year.

Training is available at area schools. The Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has a casino management certificate program.

Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College joined with MGM to open a Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute in downtown Springfield. In February, it began offering classes in blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, carnival games and mini-baccarat.

HCC also partnered with MGM to expand its culinary program by constructing a $6.43 million institute in downtown Holyoke with five European-style kitchens.

This is the year when marijuana and the state’s first resort casino will offer additional medical and recreational opportunities — as well as employment opportunities — in the Pioneer Valley.