November 12, 2018

Farmer turned medical-marijuana grower Schaan bullish about industry's future

HBJ Photo | Sean Teehan
HBJ Photo | Sean Teehan
Greg Schann, president of Curaleaf Connecticut, says the medical-marijuana grower could increase production by about 70 percent when it moves to a new and larger Simsbury facility next year.

Greg Schaan

President, Curaleaf Connecticut

Education: Bachelor's in business administration, University of North Dakota, 1980

Executive philosophy: "My primary job is to remove obstacles that other people have in their jobs so they can be successful, and that we lead in a way that makes sure that we are listening, and that we're responding, and that we're leading in a very open and transparent way with heavy emphasis on communication."

To enter Curaleaf Connecticut's Simsbury facility, you must first drive to the back of a nondescript condominium community to reach a winding road that leads to a metal gate, which opens only after security staff provides remote access.

It elicits the feeling of a clandestine operation, a super-secret marijuana growing facility evading suspicions. But that feeling dissipates when talking to Curaleaf Connecticut President Greg Schaan, a 38-year veteran of the agriculture industry who exudes the kind of easy, polite demeanor commonly attributed to the Midwest.

"I truly love farming, and everything I've done in my career has just been some form of farming," said Schaan, a North Dakota native who's lived and worked in Connecticut for nearly three decades. "I'm a person who likes to produce things."

And he's done a lot of that since he became Curaleaf Connecticut's leader in May 2017. The legal medical-marijuana grower has increased production by about 40 percent, courtesy of a $1.5 million investment from its parent company, Massachusetts-based Curaleaf, Inc.

Production, Schaan said, will be boosted by another 70 percent with a planned $8 million move next spring to a larger, 60,000-square-foot facility on Hopemeadow Street.

Repairs to the building, which could open by early May, started in September.

Schann has been involved in the business side of agriculture since his early days.

His family owned and operated a farm raising small grains and turkeys in Rugby, North Dakota, a city of about 3,100 people, south of the Canadian border.

"I knew that I wanted to work in agriculture," Schaan said. "But I also have a very strong interest, even when I was working on the farm, in knowing what's the price of turkeys this week, or how much the grain's selling for."

That's why Schaan got his bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of North Dakota. He would spend the next decade working for agriculture companies across the Midwest, before moving to the Hartford area in 1992 to become president and CEO at Imperial Nurseries Inc., a garden plant nursery that was acquired by Monrovia Nursery Co. in 2014.

That deal led Schaan to the world of medicinal marijuana.

When Monrovia bought Imperial, Schaan signed a four-year transition agreement. In 2017, with that deal almost up, he was in the process of interviewing for a plant nursery job in Pennsylvania when a friend advised him to use LinkedIn as a job-search resource.

"So I just started searching through Connecticut jobs, just to see how this worked, and saw a general manager of a manufacturing company in Connecticut, not really knowing what the job was about," Schaan said.

He applied, and a few hours later got a call from a Curaleaf recruiter.

"He said, 'It's a medical cannabis company, do you have a problem with that?' I said, 'no, I have some friends who've moved from horticulture to the industry. I think it's very exciting.' "

A week later, he had a job leading one of the four legal medical-marijuana cultivation facilities in Connecticut.

The Connecticut outpost is one of 12 Curaleaf facilities across the country. It also has 28 U.S. dispensaries, but none in Connecticut, since state law prohibits a grower from selling directly to patients. Curaleaf, Inc.'s Canada-based holding company, Curaleaf Holdings, Inc., recently started trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange after completing a $400 million private placement offering.

Growth industry

Not a marijuana user, much of Schaan's excitement about the cannabis-growing industry revolves around the sector's growth in Connecticut. Registered medical-marijuana patients shot up 46 percent between April 2017 and April 2018, according to Marijuana Business Daily, a trade publication.

There are now nearly 30,000 registered medical-marijuana patients in the state, along with about 30 health conditions permitted for medical-marijuana use. Curaleaf's competition includes three other producers spread out across the state. There are nine dispensaries in Connecticut.

"The nursery industry was in that same mode about 25 years ago … but for the past seven or eight or 10 years has been in decline," Schaan said. "So (medical marijuana) is an industry that's growing, and providing a lot more opportunity and excitement."

Part of that excitement comes from an energetic, young workforce, Schaan said. Most of Curaleaf Connecticut's 37 employees are in their 20s and early-30s, and many in that group see their job — growing marijuana for patients who, before 2012, lacked the option — as a mission.

For Schaan, part of that mission is engaging policymakers and regulators.

A bill in the Connecticut state House of Representatives that would follow New England neighbors Massachusetts and Maine in legalizing recreational marijuana didn't make it to the floor last legislative session, but lawmakers have said they expect it to reemerge in 2019.

Schann maintains a poker face when asked whether he supports recreational pot — at least, when he's asked by a reporter. But he points out that Curaleaf currently runs both medical and recreational operations in states that allow it.

"We could really be a good collaborator with others in the state, other producers, dispensers, regulators, to develop a recreational program that makes sense," if and when the legislature greenlights it, he said.

Curaleaf Connecticut is currently represented by two lobbying firms at the state Capitol. The goal is to provide policymakers and regulators access to the most accurate and up-to-date information about the industry, Schaan said.

For now, continuing to grow the business that already exists is Curaleaf Connecticut's top mission, especially as it prepares to move to its new, larger facility.

"We'll continue to innovate with new product and production," Schaan said. "I think we'll generally continue to do more of the same of what we have been doing."

Check out a video clip of Greg Schaan's interview.

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