Sundial Growers wants this Alberta area to become cannabis’s Silicon Valley

One of central Alberta’s largest employers would like to help transform the town of Olds into the “Silicon Valley of Cannabis,” saying the community is the ideal location to find the kind of agricultural talent needed to propel the industry forward.

Andrew Stordeur, Sundial Growers president and chief operating officer, says the cannabis sector could be a key to diversifying the province’s economy.

There are nearly 300 employees working at the Sundial Growers facility in the central Alberta town, located between Red Deer and Calgary.

“It’s a really great central location for us to pull talent from,” said Stordeur.

“We get about a third of our employees from the Red Deer area, a third from Olds and surrounding area, and a third from the Calgary area.”

The company owns about 40 acres of land and its facility’s growth will depend on Canada’s “dynamic” cannabis industry, said Stordeur.

“We can expand if we need to, which is great on the cultivation side. We’re going to look at some other opportunities inside the facility with regards to extraction and some other areas we’re focusing on in the short and immediate term here,” he said, adding the industry is still in its infancy in the country.

“If you think about Alberta on the macro level, we need diversification in this economy. We have a pretty great history in this province of agricultural leadership.”

During its first harvest in November 2018, Sundial Growers had about 90 employees. At one point, there were more than 400 employees working at the facility, but the number fell below 300 following layoffs earlier this year.

Despite the shedding of jobs, Stordeur says he sees Olds as a great location for more cannabis-production facilities.

“We’d love to be setting Olds up as kind of the Silicon Valley of Cannabis, and it really does have that capability,” he said.

“When that kind of thinking starts to move into a community, things like jobs and economic diversification are kind of the byproduct of that.”

Olds Mayor Michael Muzychka says Sundial is important to the community of 9,000 residents.

“It certainly has helped diversify our economy. When we see the typical downswings in the oil and gas industry, and if the farmers are having a tough time, it’s good to have that sort of third leg … to prop up our local economy here,” said Muzychka.

This facility has helped Olds catch the eye of other businesses, Muzychka added.

“It’s great to see (Sundial) is doing quite a bit better. They had a bit of a rough patch before COVID, but it looks like they’re bouncing back and the whole industry is doing a little bit better.

“Once markets open up in the eastern provinces, I think we’ll be off to the races,” he said.

When the company began “looking at getting into the cultivation game,” it looked at a number of counties before deciding on Olds, said Stordeur.

“The town is extremely progressive in its stance on cannabis and it’s certainly an agricultural hub,” he said.

“We’ve got a great partnership with Olds College, so it’s a great way for us to tap into that agricultural talent that’s already there, given that we are kind of an agri-food business.”

According to Olds College’s website, it aims to “advance all aspects of the agriculture industry.”

“By transforming the agriculture industry, we will make the world a better place. All of our programs and actions align to our social purpose. It is the why behind everything we do,” the website says.