Northglenn, Colorado (with a second manufacturing facility in Panna, Illinois)
Industry: Built Environment
The standout greenhouse fabricator and assembler pivots to cannabis as the market for indoor growing blossoms.
"The amount of lighting that you need in a greenhouse is far less than, say, any type of indoor growing," says Director of Specialty Markets David Laverty.
It's not that greenhouses, when used for cannabis cultivation, don't employ supplemental lighting fixtures to generate plant growth. However, those lights are used less of the time than within a warehouse grow, thanks to the benefits of good ol' sunshine. Laverty says that in Arizona, growers could be "harnessing sunlight" about 90 percent of the time, whereas it's 30 to 40 percent on the East Coast, due to "cloudy or overcast days." The company explains in a white paper authored by Laverty, "With greater reliance on the sun, and less use of supplemental lights and heaters, growers can reduce their utility bills by as much as 70 percent."
Nexus has been manufacturing greenhouses for more than 50 years. Customers have included "longtime, multi-generational family farms," says Laverty. (One customer referred to Nexus as "the Cadillac of greenhouses.") As an example of one of its projects, a company-designed greenhouse was added to the top of a Whole Foods in Brooklyn so that vegetables could be grown locally for the customers shopping below.
But the uses for greenhouses aren't restricted to growing plants. One specialty market is sewage treatment, and some public works departments employ greenhouses for that purpose. Laverty says, "The sun bakes out the sewage and turns it into biosolids."
However, the company's most profitable specialty market is cannabis. Nexus began focusing on that industry in 2012, when Colorado legalized its use and production. So far, the company has worked on 200 cannabis-related projects across the United States. In Colorado, customers include Altitude Wellness in Denver; Durango Organics in Durango; Yeti Farms in Rifle; and Largo Meds in Pueblo.
At its Colorado headquarters, Laverty says, "The production people work with our engineering department . . . do the welding, get the steel and the metal prefabricated." Pointing to the company's use of galvanized steel, Laverty says, "Our claim to fame is making structures that are stronger than competitors'," with the ability to withstand "severe snow, high amount of wind." The components are loaded onto trucks and sent to the job sites to be assembled.
Nexus' System 420 Hybrid Greenhouses have metal sidings that provide security -- and which help block out light, aiding cultivators when they want to intentionally grow on a schedule of, say, 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness. That's accomplished in tandem with ceilings that incorporate "retractable black-out curtains," as they're referred to within another of the company's white papers. The greenhouses might also incorporate screens to aid with pest prevention and to keep out pollen that might drift from a hemp field into a high-THC cannabis greenhouse grow. Or, for that matter, to keep pollen from hemp being grown within greenhouses for CBD markets, not for seed production, which accounts for about a third of Nexus' overall cannabis customers.
As of late 2018, cannabis accounts totaled around 25 to 40 percent of Nexus' overall sales. But Laverty says, "This year has been a breakout year. It's much higher than that. We've sold more than we ever have before."
Laverty likens the present-day cannabis market to the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. "It's now the same thing 100 years later," he says. "It's the Green Rush."
Challenges: "Finding customers that are serious, because a lot of people don't have any idea how complicated it is to get your structure designed, get it built, get it approved by the [local building] department," says Laverty. "Because most of our structures are permanent structures, it would essentially be like building your own house. And a lot of people have the idea that greenhouses are pretty simple structures. It ends up being a lot more complicated than people realize."
He adds, "It's similar to buying a car. For the majority of people who go out and buy a car, they just want to know, What does the car look like? What's the color? Is it going to do what I need it to do, and is it a fair price? And so the same thing happens in greenhouses. But there's a portion of people in greenhouses, as in cars, who want to know everything [about the mechanics of it]. . . . We need to cater to both viewpoints."
Opportunities: "To see how the whole international market plays out," in terms of cannabis legalization, says Laverty. "What's going to happen in South America? What's going to happen in Asia? Is this truly going to become a world-wide market?" Outside the United States, the company has already worked on projects located in Canada and Colombia.
Needs: Laverty says, "Managing the growth, because we're growing pretty fast. And to be able to get the systems in place and hire enough people and keep up with the demand, because we have had a breakout year."