George Boardman: Nevada County leadership MIA as big economic opportunity goes up in smoke
March 19, 2017
Observations from the center stripe: Image edition
BASIC PR tip for Hospitality House: Don’t announce your new executive director on a day she’s not available to speak to the media … SACRAMENTO BOOSTERS arguing over whether its water tower should say “City of Trees” or “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital” seem oblivious to the obvious: Nothing says small time like a water tower … SEASON TICKET holders of the Sacramento Kings should get a refund for every home game the team has played since it gave up on the season by trading its best player, DeMarcus Cousins … SACRAMENTO FANS got a reminder of what good basketball looks like last week with the NCAA men’s tournament back in town … A CAR on Highway 49 that advertised a lawyer service to take care of your traffic tickets was driven by a guy talking on his cell phone …
Economic development in western Nevada County is a lot like the weather: Everybody talks about it but very little is actually done about it.
While Placer and other neighboring counties have economic development units that aggressively seek new business, our Board of Supervisors is content to parcel out political patronage to various local chambers of commerce and provide funding to the Economic Resource Council with the hope it can attract the high paying jobs we so desperately need.
The ERC is currently rolling the dice on virtual reality (VR) technology, a development that has created a lot of excitement but appears to be a slow build. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said recently that it's going to be several years before VR reaches its potential.
Facebook spent $2 billion to acquire Oculus, developer of the Rift VR headset, and plans to spend another $3 billion developing the business, much of the money going to developers of games and other attractions that make the expensive headsets worth buying.
Sales of the pricey headsets have failed to meet expectations, and some early developers have already closed their doors. Even the most optimistic forecasts won't take your breath away: headset sales of 55 million units annually by 2022. Apple expects to ship 200 million iPhones this year.
But while the ERC tries to create a foothold in a technology that may either live up to the hype or become another 3-D television, we are missing a golden opportunity to seize a leadership position in an emerging segment of California's economy, the recreational pot business.
Various marketing studies project annuals sales of $6 billion to $7 billion a year, and taking their cue from the wine industry, growers in the rest of the state are scrambling to stake out a marketing position in the business. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a strong opponent of weed, has apparently decided the Justice Department has higher priorities than enforcing the ban on the use of marijuana.
The Wall Street Journal reports that pot growers in the Emerald Triangle — Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties — are trying to establish a local variety known as Coffee Krush (said to have a "fresh, earthy taste") as the "Bordeaux of cannabis." They want to model themselves after the wine industry, which places great worth on provenance.
Humboldt County is indirectly helping the effort with a tourism campaign that includes TV ads built around the theme "Follow the Magic." The reference isn't to pot but the ads do include an Alice in Wonderland-like character and a white rabbit, and that conjures up certain images for old hippies who were fans of the Jefferson Airplane.
State officials said they would set up a commission to decide whether certain parts of California deserve their own exclusive appellations for cannabis. Coffee Krush may get its own appellation, not to be sold by growers from any other region.
As growers in other parts of the state gear up to make the case for their unique locations, there's still plenty of debate about where you can grow the best pot. Ed Rosenthal, a founder of High Times magazine who is known in some circles as the Guru of Ganja, is not that impressed with the Emerald Triangle. He said the foggy region of Northern California was chosen by growers in the days when pot was illegal because it was easy to conceal from law enforcement, not because it is the ideal climate for the plant.
"The best stuff I could grow is if I were in the Central Valley," said Rosenthal. Emerald Triangle farmers are hoping to snag the high end of the market from the Central Valley, which can cultivate pot year-round.
Farmers from the far north state are already discussing the marketing effort, which may play to the area's outlaw reputation, reminiscent of Prohibition Era bootleggers. "We're like an American treasure; we've lived through some s—," said Justin Calvino, a grower in the area for almost 10 years. "The hipsters are going to love that — it's like meeting Machine Gun Kelly."
Meanwhile, a gaggle of celebrities — among them singer Willie Nelson, comic Whoopi Goldberg, personality Snoop Dogg, and the children of reggae legend Bob Marley — are working to establish brands that will resonate with the pot-smoking public. The state is even considering issuing trademarks that will be legal inside the borders of the Golden State.
So what's Nevada County doing to stake out its position in the market? Nothing that I can detect, even though pot is the biggest cash crop in the county, underpins a good part of our economy, and — based on periodic arrests in the Midwest and East Coast — is well regarded in other parts of the country. Organizers of last weekend's Nevada County Cannabis Cup competition estimated that over 90 percent of the 100 plus strains of pot edibles, extracts and flowers entered in the competition were from this county.
Instead of encouraging growers to establish a unique brand — Miners' Gold is one that comes to mind — and stake out our own unique position in the market, we're arguing about the ground rules for growing pot and whether dispensaries will be allowed in the area. A big opportunity will go up in smoke if we let other parts of the state get a head start marketing inferior products to neophyte consumers who are clueless about the source of the best pot.
But that's par for the course around here. Nevada County has devolved from an economic powerhouse during the Gold Rush days to an economic backwater during a period when California grew from a frontier wilderness to the sixth largest economy in the world. We have not been blessed with foresight and the ability to change with the times.
Just picture what could be: a young, upwardly mobile striver relaxing after a long day at MegaTech, Inc., with some Miners' Gold while exploring the latest VR technical innovation from you-know-where.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union.