By C.R. Roberts
The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
What’s green might soon be turning to gold for one South Sound entrepreneur.
Angel Swanson has opened an employment agency placing people in jobs serving an industry — the legal marijuana industry — that has barely been born.
With a pair of partners, a close friend and her son, Swanson has opened Green Staffing Solutions, and several weeks after opening she already counts a stable of more than a hundred people looking for work.
Along with her husband, Scott, Angel operates a pair of medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated Pierce County. They have applied for a license to sell recreational cannabis products.
Now, Angel has hewn a new niche.
And there will be jobs — for agricultural workers, drivers, warehouse personnel, quality control experts, store clerks and more.
Swanson said she found the idea after attending a series of meetings regarding the implementation if Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use.
“It became evident that there were very few minorities, Asians or Hispanics, involved,” she said. “Also, there were some women there, but a limited number.”
Swanson said she will serve all applicants, statewide, and that she is reaching out to minority jobseekers.
“Culturally, minorities will hold back and see,” she said. “We get whacked first and we get whacked the hardest.”
She noted the volume of new businesses she believes will serve the industry: “thousands of new businesses,” she said. First come the licensed growers, processors and retail sellers. And they could use bookkeepers, for example, and workers to transport the product.
Add cooks, bakers and beverage experts to produce the cannabis edibles and drinks. Plus security personnel to guard the grow operations. Marketing experts. Add human resources, and janitorial staff, and botanists, and workers familiar with waste, hazardous or otherwise.
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It’s whatever jobs an industry might require.
“How do these businesses become staffed? How do we get people into this industry? A staffing company makes perfect sense,” Swanson said.
The industry now, she said, is typically staffed by “friends and family. There has to be a high level of trust. Many businesses don’t have the skills to do background checks and job interviews, check references and do screening in general.”
Hence the name “Solutions.”
“We screen, do drug tests and background checks,” she said. “We do an assessment test for candidates, basic math, English, to make sure they can handle customers.”
The drug testing, incidentally, does not seek results for marijuana use.
“I think (the company) is a great idea,” said Marcos Zuniga, drug policy outreach coordinator at the ACLU of Washington. The ACLU was instrumental in the passage of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational use.
Of Swanson, Zuniga said, “I think she’s got the right vision and the right heart. All power to her.”
“It’s going to create jobs, and we support the creation of new jobs,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of WorkForce Central, a Pierce County job placement and training service, and chief of staff to the Tacoma Pierce County Workforce Development Council.
Nguyen said her agency has not yet seen an increase in demand for workers in the cannabis industry, however, “if it’s a legal business, and they need workers, that’s fine. I see them as a regular business in this community. If it’s going to create jobs — we support the creation of new jobs.”
How many jobs? The state has developed no data predicting how many workers the cannabis industry will require or support.
“We don’t have that information now. We may have it in the future. We have to wait until there’s a little history,” said Susan Gordon, spokeswoman for the state Employment Security Department.
Even then, she said, “we may not be able to break it out for a specific industry. We do forecasting by occupation, but not by industry.”
“The employment industry has not reached out to the cannabis industry,” Swanson said.
A handful of employment agencies contacted Monday preferred not to comment on the subject, and one regional manager for a major staffing service said, “In my personal opinion, it’s something I would not want to be involved with.”
Swanson received the first wave of interest, with 150 applicants, after mentioning her service on an online bulletin board. When word went out, the Green Staffing website — greenstaffingsolutions.biz — crashed.
Already Swanson is considering expanding the business, opening an office east of the Cascades, perhaps in Moses Lake or Spokane.
“Take what you do for a living and ask how it can apply to the cannabis industry,” she said. “There are so many people who want to be a part of this.”