Marijuana boom brings jobs and new life to factories, storefronts in southwest Michigan
By Ed Semmler
Even with some ambitious redevelopment efforts over the years, large sections of southwest Michigan remained in decline, dotted with empty warehouses and storefronts.
Clark Equipment once offered thousands of jobs in Buchanan. So did National Standard, Tyler Refrigeration, Simplicity Pattern and other companies in and around Niles.
But as those businesses started moving, closing or scaling back, the cities were left with abandoned and decaying buildings.
And eventually stores in once-busy downtowns started closing too — thanks to evolving shopping preferences and the loss of residents who had to drive or move elsewhere for jobs.
Then the state moved to legalize marijuana.
Cannabis-industry investors were on the prowl for suitable locations for dispensaries, as well as grow and processing plants. They were greeted by officials in southwest Michigan who were willing to listen — and were highly motivated to entertain the business proposals.
City leaders say the cannabis industry has packed more than a decade’s worth of redevelopment into the span of a few years, and they're looking at the prospect of even more projects in the coming year.
The total investment in buildings and equipment in Niles and Buchanan already exceeds $50 million in the past two years, and the cities say they’ve gained about 250 new jobs each.