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Liverpool facility granted medical marijuana licence

Myrna Gillis, co-founder and president of Aqualitas, sits in the company’s Bedford office. The company’s facility in Queens County, located on the old Bowater site, recently got the green light to produce medical marijuana.
Myrna Gillis, co-founder and president of Aqualitas, sits in the company’s Bedford office. The company’s facility in Queens County, located on the old Bowater site, recently got the green light to produce medical marijuana. - SaltWire Network

Production at Aqualitas facility to begin ramping up immediately: Gillis

LIVERPOOL – In the big pond of medical marijuana production, a Liverpool-based company that grows pot in tanks with koi – a long-lived species of carp - is still a small fish.
But it's got huge plans.
On Jan. 19, that company, Aqualitas, got the green light from Health Canada to grow medicinal marijuana at its plant on the former Bowater Brooklyn paper mill site in Liverpool.
Now, the company is in hiring mode.
Myrna Gillis, the company’s co-founder and president, said in an interview Jan. 24 Aqualitas is planning to hire another 45 employees this year to its existing workforce of 15 people.
They will work in Liverpool, where a former warehouse on four acres on the old Bowater site has been completely renovated to include a second floor. The building now has a 70,000-square-foot production area as well as 10,000 square feet of office space.
In that building alone, Aqualitas is forecasting enough production to bring in $63 million in annual revenues with gross profits of roughly $30 million per year after allowing for direct production costs.
“We hope to start commercial production right away,” said Gillis. “It takes about 52 weeks to get up to full capacity.”
But Aqualitas isn’t going to wait until it reaches full production in its existing building before expanding. There are already plans in the works to issue a tender later this year for a 40,000-square-foot building on the site’s remaining three acres.
“We would like to start expanding on our existing footprint in June,” said Gillis. “I think we could be realistically looking at 2019 (for completion of that greenhouse).”
That new building is expected to cost the company - which has already raised about $15 million in equity investments and spent or committed the vast majority of those funds - roughly another $5 million.
Once that building is up, Aqualitas would have enough production capacity to hit annual revenues of about $99 million and will be looking to hire another roughly 32 people.
Good news for Queens County
That’s music to the ears of many in the community, including resident Heidi Huskins, who wants to see local jobs for her sons.
“It would be wonderful if they hired locally,” she said in an interview Jan. 24. “As a mother, I have three boys coming up through the educational system – one of them is at Nova Scotia Community College in Yarmouth – and there’s no major job options here.
“They’re being told to go out West.”
When Resolute Forest Products axed the jobs at the Bowater Brooklyn paper mill in 2012, the company threw 320 people out of work in Liverpool. The fallout from that massive layoff is still being felt in the community.
At Queen’s Auto Clearance down the street from the plant, owner Corey Hartlen admits his business has been struggling for the last four or five years. He’s hoping the new jobs at Aqualitas will bring more customers to his auto repair shop.
“When Bowater went down … most of the guys weren’t due for retirement so they picked up and went out West,” he said. “Then that died and they came back.”
That ready and skilled workforce is one of three main reasons Gillis cites for locating Aqualitas in Liverpool.
“They had a job fair in Liverpool and they had 300 people show up at the Best Western Plus,” said Region of Queens Mayor David Dagley in an interview. "There's tremendous interest."
The company is looking for research scientists and people with experience in horticulture and aquaculture, processing and packaging, sanitation, security, office administration and finance, said Gillis.
Since its closure as a paper mill, the former Bowater property has been re-invented and transformed by Nova Scotia Lands into an innovation hub, the Port Mersey Commercial Park. It’s now home to 10 companies, including boat builders and demolition experts R.J. MacIsaac Construction, shipwright Covey Island Boatworks, renewable fuels company Cellufuel, Innovacorp, and facilities management and cleaning company Jaspro. Those 10 companies employ about 100 people
Unique technology
The growth of innovation-oriented companies in that business park as part of the appeal for Aqualitas which developed its unique marijuana-growing process through its Finleaf Technologies subsidiary.  
That technology uses the urine of fish swimming in tanks as the natural fertilizer for the marijuana grown above. The use of natural fertilizer is expected to be a major product differentiation for Aqualitas when it comes time to sell its dried marijuana and cannabis oils online, initially to patients in Canada who have prescriptions for medical marijuana.
“We’re all natural,” said Gillis. “There are no synthetic fertilizers. Often, people who have sensitivity issues can’t tolerate synthetic fertilizers.”
The company's growing process is fairly high tech.
“It’s controlled-environment agriculture,” said Gillis. “Everything is automated in terms of heat, lighting, and water flow.”
At the Liverpool property, which Aqualitas has on a 10-year lease-to-purchase agreement at an undisclosed rent, the company gets the benefit of added security.
“This was a good location in the sense that it had good security infrastructure,” said Gillis. “It was fenced and it had a 24-hour-a-day manned gate.”
Aqualitas has since beefed up that security by adding 168 security cameras and bringing in its own security personnel.
Although Aqualitas is starting off in the medical marijuana industry and plans to first serve the Canadian market, Gillis said the company will likely eventually look for customers abroad in places like New Zealand, Australia, Italy, Germany, the Cayman Islands and Croatia, where there are reciprocal trade agreements for the sale of medical marijuana.
She is also leaving the door open for Aqualitas to enter the recreational marijuana industry as well if this becomes legal in Canada, as it is expected to do under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
In addition to its existing, four-acre Liverpool facility, Aqualitas has an office in Bedford and an option to pick up even more land at the former Bowater site to expand that operation to 20 acres. According to Gillis, that has the potential to create up to 300 jobs in Liverpool if the property is completely used to grow marijuana.

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