Whether the medical marijuana manufacturing facility going up in Cottage Grove will spur further development in a city eager for economic growth remains to be seen.

But what's clear for now is that the 42,000-square-foot plant has that potential, and city leaders are excited.

"Certainly, we were thrilled," Cottage Grove City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said of LeafLine Labs' decision to build in the city's business park. "We want to help [companies] land here, but we also want to help them grow here."

Although LeafLine Labs, one of two companies chosen by the state to grow and sell the state's entire supply of medical marijuana, only broke ground on its building last month, the project already is drawing strong interest from prospective employees.

Dozens of people have called the city inquiring about jobs at the plant, which is expected to have a workforce of 35 employees when it begins operating later this year. It has the potential to expand to 200,000 square feet, adding workers as it grows.

Schroeder said that landing LeafLine illustrates Cottage Grove's commitment to economic development and its continuing efforts to attract retail development, manufacturing and a range of housing — and jobs — to the city.

"We see this as another positive commentary about the city of Cottage Grove and its approach to development," he said.

Cottage Grove spent up to $40,000 in advance work to persuade LeafLine to build in the city and to determine whether the company could address potential concerns about security and odors from its facility. Much of that cost, however, was recovered when the city sold the land to the company.

"Manufacturers can locate anywhere," Schroeder said. "Dirt is dirt for the most part. So if that's what you're selling, there has to be something of value that you contribute beyond just dirt. What we contribute in part is our upfront approach to development opportunities."

Dr. Gary Starr, an emergency room physician who founded LeafLine with 10 members of the Bachman family of florists, praised Cottage Grove for its initiative in pursuing the project and its ability to meet the state's deadline.

The state last month selected LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions from 12 companies that applied — and paid a $20,000 nonrefundable application fee — for the job of growing and selling the state's medical marijuana.

"In this very tight turnaround … Cottage Grove certainly stood out as a municipality that was very supportive and, in fact to some degree, even sought us out, looking to be our choice," Starr said.

Also working in Cottage Grove's favor, Starr said, was the availability of land that was close to patients and potential employees, but far enough away from properties such as schools to meet state requirements.

"It turns out to be very difficult to find the perfect location from a building or a land standpoint to do the kind of thing we're going to be doing," Starr said. "There are a lot of limitations placed by the state that we had to take into account. … The land that was available in the business park in Cottage Grove was one of the very few [parcels] that met all these requirements."

Spinoff opportunities

LeafLine is one of more than 15 companies, including replacement window manufacturer Renewal by Andersen and Werner Electric, located in Cottage Grove's business park. The park, which opened in 1998 along Hwy. 61, has 400 acres available for industrial and light-industrial development.

City officials are optimistic that LeafLine and its growth potential will attract other companies to the park.

"There are spinoff opportunities … that sometimes happen," Schroeder said. "When Renewal by Andersen landed in Cottage Grove, we thought there might be an opportunity to attract a glass manufacturer. That hasn't happened, but it doesn't mean that it won't happen someday."

While LeafLine's product is certainly unique, the city views the company more as an employer that will help it diversify its economic base, Schroeder said.

"We don't see this as, 'Gee, we landed the medical cannabis facility,' " Schroeder said. "We see it as 'We landed a pharmaceutical facility.' We didn't have a pharmaceutical facility in the community, so that's a good thing."

When LeafLine opens, jobs will range from medical marijuana cultivation, extraction and production to operations, building management and security.

Schroeder said that an estimated 100 construction workers also will be employed on the site as the building goes up, according to Ryan Companies, the project developer.

While LeafLine could expand on its 20-acre site, it also has the first right of refusal on another 20 acres in the business park. If another buyer wanted to acquire that land, the city would have to offer the property to LeafLine first and at the same price.

Cottage Grove spent about $1.7 million to acquire the land for LeafLine and will spend about $1 million on development costs, Schroeder said. The city sold the land to LeafLine for slightly more than $2.7 million to recover its costs.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.