NEEDLES, CA (FOX5) -- In a small desert town near the borders of Nevada and Arizona, locals hope marijuana will revitalize its economy.
At its peak, Needles, California was a tourist town along Route 66 with strong ties to the railroad industry. In 2019, marijuana has taken the railroad industry's place.
“When [the railroad industry] left, we were dying and in a small community like Needles if you’re not growing you’re dying,” said Mayor Jeff Williams.
Williams grew up in Needles and saw the railroad jobs disappear along with the population.
“We had gone below 4,700 from about 12,000 at our peak,” Williams said.
More people left and so did the businesses that could not turn a profit in the isolated town. In 2014, the city lost its last grocery store.
When California voters legalized the adult use of marijuana in 2016, Needles was one of the first cities to take advantage. The city adopted an ordinance to permit cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and cannabis testing.
“It was a window of opportunity for us to get into the industry,” Williams said. “That’s what you have to do as an elected official: Look for an industry to improve the quality of life for your citizens.”
Williams had a complete change in perspective on cannabis. Prior to taking public office, he served as a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy for 10 years.
“I air tested a lot of marijuana and told the kids that it’s not good for them,” Williams said.
He also voted against the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“I’m still not for [recreational] but I can see where it helps with the medical side. The citizens voted so we accepted it,” Williams said.
Needles was issued 83 permits authorizing work like the sale and cultivation of cannabis in the city.
Vertical Companies is one of the marijuana businesses to move to Needles. The company bought 29 acres of land.
“It’s a bigger profit margin,” Director of Operations Jay Thompson said.
Needles has lower land, water, and electric prices, according to Williams. Key elements in the production of cannabis.
Electric rates are between $.06 and $.11 per kilowatt.
Vertical companies hopes to hire 400-500 people within the next few years.
Currently, the company has 60 people working in Needles. A majority are staff members who moved in from other parts of the country. About 20 employees are from Needles.
“We’re bringing jobs so our graduates from high school have somewhere they can work to make money,” Williams said.
In addition to multiple marijuana companies Williams also said the city is home to four dispensaries.