So could McKeesport become the marijuana-growing capital of the region, if not the state?

MCKEESPORT, Pa. (KDKA) — It’s a first.

The state of Pennsylvania has awarded a grant of state tax dollars to a medical marijuana grower in this area. And it could mean a growth in jobs.

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It’s the story of an industry that is taking off in the Mon Valley. McKeesport in the 1960s had 45,000 residents and 10,000 worked the National Tube Steel mill.

Today, barely 19,000 people live in the city, but the old National Tube site is the location of Pure Penn, this region’s fastest-growing grower and manufacturer of medical cannabis.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

“We’re going to be the next kind of big industry to revitalize and help drive economic development for the city of McKeesport,” Gabe Perlow, the president of Pure Penn, told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

Pure Penn, now owned by Florida-based Trulieve, is expanding its 35,000 square foot facility to 135,000 square feet thanks to a $2 million capital grant from the state of Pennsylvania, the first such award of state tax dollars to a medical cannabis manufacturer.

Local lawmakers like Pa. Sen. Jim Brewster, a McKeesport Democrat, and Pa. Rep. Austin Davis, also a McKeesport Democrat, defend tax dollars for this expansion.

Delano: Is this a proper use of tax dollars?

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Davis: I absolutely believe this is a proper use. We’re creating jobs. We’re stimulating the economy in a region that has struggled significantly since the collapse of the steel industry.

“It’s completely transparent. It’s heavily scrutinized and governed for the public to know what’s being done. The security at the buildings is second to none,” added Brewster, the former mayor of McKeesport.

How many new jobs are expected here?

“We’re looking at 100, possibly more,” says Perlow. “We currently employ 77 people, and we will potentially double or triple that number in this new building as we are potentially doubling or tripling the size of our production capabilities.”

So could McKeesport become the marijuana-growing capital of the region, if not the state?

“It is the goal,” says Davis. “We have significant swaths of land that have been underdeveloped. It’s very easy to put out these operations and grow them in our region here in the Mon Valley.”

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Of course, a lot also depends on if and when the state legalizes recreational marijuana.