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North Coast pot business prospects plentiful at CannaCon

Chris Boyette of Smokus Focus shows off a storage and magnifying display canister during CannaCon, Thursday April 20, 2017 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2017

JULIE JOHNSON,

Santa Rosa business owner Curtis Moore didn’t realize he’d be so perfectly poised to ride the wave of the burgeoning marijuana industry when he started a home air conditioning and solar power business about eight years ago.

Then cannabis cultivators started inquiring about climate control systems, and he realized it was “time to get educated.” Over the last year, he’s brought in experts to help him develop hobbyist and commercial setups catered to the demands of indoor marijuana production.

“The industry has come to us,” Moore said.

Moore, who operates Moore Solar, Heating and Cooling company from a storefront on Airway Drive, said cannabis-involved clients are still a small fraction of his business — less than 5 percent — but claims the work is helping push his projected revenue from $16 million to $20 million in the coming year. He’s had 25 “massive” design-build proposals land on his desk since January from North Coast producers.

Moore was among about 245 vendors who paid about $3,000 each for a booth to showcase their products and services at the CannaCon trade show, a three-day event held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds that opened Thursday. It’s an intra-industry networking event geared toward drumming up visibility and business, and most people wandering the aisles and stopping at booths were wearing exhibitor badges.

Amsterdam-based Futurola sent its Los Angeles sales team to Santa Rosa to demonstrate its joint rolling devices, including a machine that rolls 100 perfect half-gram cones at a time.

A South Carolina company, Smokus Focus, producing marijuana flower display cases and magnifying jars, flew its team across the country.

“Santa Rosa is a prime location for us — this is heaven,” said Mitch Albro, business development director for Smokus Focus.

At a seminar on employment law in the Hall of Flowers, lawyers from Portland and San Francisco outlined tedious yet essential human resources matters such as workers comp, sexual harassment and legally required break intervals. Sacramento area insurance brokers Allen Bozzuto and Gene Bernkrant, wearing green polo shirts, stood up repeatedly to share their expertise. Founded nearly 35 years ago as a company specializing in Central Valley agriculture, they are building a branch of Bozzuto and Company Insurance catering to cannabis companies.

“A lot of people are jumping off cliffs and trying to grow wings on the way down,” Bernkrant said.

In the Grace Pavilion, the most basic carbon dioxide extraction machine built by Seattle company Azoth Solutions was listed at $28,500. Sheldon Bray, chief executive officer, said the company started building environmentally cleaner dry cleaning systems about 15 years ago, and realized the method using liquid carbon dioxide was suited to oil extraction. He said they don’t yet have northern California clients and “that’s why we’re here.”

“People are expecting the price of dry flowers to plummet and they’re looking to concentrates to set them apart in the market,” Bray said.

With her friend snapping photos, Sonoma County native Emily Chavez climbed into the belly of a $75,000 closed loop extraction machine built by Benicia-based Purge Labs on display inside the fairgrounds’ Hall of Flowers. Chavez had flown up from Venice Beach where she lives and networks as a regional sales manager of Emerald Harvest, a 2-year-old Santa Rosa company specializing in hydroponic nutrients and gardening supplements.

Chavez, a granddaughter of Sonoma County peace activist Mary Moore, said she remembers passing around petitions at school recess in support of medical marijuana before the 1996 vote passing Proposition 215.

The industry has “matured a lot,” she said, waving an arm around at the booths. “It’s a chance to see how cannabis has grown up.”

Zack Darling, founder of The Hybrid Creative, a cannabis-focused digital graphic design firm based in downtown Santa Rosa, has been involved in marijuana his entire life.

Darling grew up on a commune outside Ukiah and described himself as part of the “second generation,” meaning children raised by cannabis farmers. One of his most high-profile clients is Santa Rosa’s largest concentrate manufacturer, Care By Design and Absolute Extracts.

Representatives of an insurance company dropped by his booth asking about improving their online visibility. One woman handed him a resume looking for work.

“You’re in the right place,” Darling said.

CannaCon continues Thursday through Saturday. Find more information click here.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.