Every Upstate New Yorker knows the pain of the question “Where are you from?” After answering “New York” to any Floridian, Texan, Nebraskan, or Californian, the response is always the same.
“I could never live with that traffic.”
“I visited the Rockefeller Center once!”
“Chicago pizza is better.”
But New York is, in fact, a full state. Though roughly 64% of the state’s population lives within the New York City metropolitan area, New York is also home to comparatively large cities like Buffalo and Rochester, ranked the 76th and 177th largest US cities, respectively. The Finger Lakes region, for instance, sees an average of 5.5 million tourists from across the globe annually.
Yet, as a result of competing with the largest city in the country and business capital of the world coupled with the historic decline of Rust Belt cities, Upstate New York seems to be an afterthought in the state’s economy. Upstate New York has certainly seen its share of tough times. Rochester is home to Kodak, a corporation that, at its peak, produced 90% of the film used in the US and provided over 60,000 jobs. However, Rochester and the Rust Belt cities like it fell with the digital revolution and manufacturing decline, experiencing high unemployment rates, increased crime, and mass exodus.
Despite these challenges, Upstate cities are experiencing somewhat of a renaissance, largely in part due to the craft beverage industry, private sector universities, and a grassroots revival of small business. The pandemic had some surprising adverse consequences as well with city dwellers flooding Upstate for more affordable housing, space, and remote work.
With this context in mind, Upstate New York is primed for success in the cannabis industry for a few key reasons.
1. The Finger Lakes Region offers prime farmland for cannabis cultivation.
Already home to a large viticulture economy and thousands of acres of vineyards, the Finger Lakes region offers prime land for cannabis cultivation (link to article on Finger Lakes cannabis cultivation). When it comes to key cannabis growing factors, such as pH levels, soil type, and drainage, this region is a perfect match. Its glacier-formed hillsides and layers of sedimentary rock offer nutrient-rich soil and natural drainage systems. Furthermore, a booming tourism industry already exists in the area for cannabis to successfully build upon.
2. The fall of the industrial era in Upstate New York and subsequent population decline now offer a high volume of existing infrastructure for new businesses.
With the fall of large industrial corporations such as Kodak, Upstate New York now has a high volume of available infrastructure dubbed “zombie properties.” Albany, New York, reported an 18% vacancy rate of commercial property in 2018, while Rochester, New York, recently reported a vacancy rate of 10% for warehouse and manufacturing space. Taking advantage of this, Columbia Care, a leader in medical cannabis, signed an agreement with Eastman Kodak Company in 2015 to repurpose more than 204,000 square feet of unused space for a state-of-the art medical marijuana cultivation facility and dispensary.
3. Upstate New York is significantly more cost-effective for new businesses compared to NYC.
With more supply comes a better price. Rates for commercial and office space in Upstate New York range from $5–$20 per square foot per year, whereas New York City averages about $75 per square foot per year for office space. Upstate New York offers an affordable cost of living when compared to the whole country, an attractive feature for employers and employees alike.
As cannabis entrepreneurs and investors develop business plans within New York, it would be a grave mistake to overlook the opportunities Upstate has to offer. With the looming threat of climate change, cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Ithaca make every list of predicted “climate havens” for many of the same reasons discussed above. The future of Upstate New York is bright, and the cannabis industry should capitalize on its potential now.