RIDC's Industrial Center of McKeesport. Trulieve acquired the buildings at top left. Photo courtesy of RIDC.

Imagine going back into the 1970s and telling the residents of “Tube City,” that in a few decades McKeeport’s vast steel mills would largely be gone, replaced by the next growth industry in the 2020s — marijuana.

Florida-based Trulieve, the nation’s largest marijuana retailer, will be moving into McKeesport Commons 1, U.S. Steel’s former guard house, and several adjacent parcels of land. Trulieve’s cultivation and processing facility will employ about 800 people, and span a vast 508,000 square feet of space.

Who knew that the secret ingredient for reviving industrial McKeesport could be, well, weed?

The Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC) says the buildings purchased by the company total more than 228,000 square feet and 36.93 acres of land.

“Trulieve is thrilled to partner with RIDC as we strive to bring high-quality medical marijuana to patients in Pennsylvania,” says Jim Wernick, director of state expansion for Trulieve. “We look forward to building lasting partnerships with communities and benefiting from the strong talent pool that exists in McKeesport and the surrounding areas.”

Silver Haze marijuana plant. Photo courtesy of Trulieve.

It’s not the first major medical marijuana facility in McKeesport.

“Trulieve’s decision to expand its presence here truly exemplifies the vision we had when PurePenn (since acquired by Trulieve) first broke ground in RIDC park,” says McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko. It’s because of companies like Trulieve — the jobs they bring and their investments in the community — that our economy is steadily growing. This tremendous investment will translate to several hundred more jobs coming to our community.”

Trulieve has local dispensaries in Squirrel Hill, Washington and Zelienople, and several others across the state.

A $2 million RACP Grant (Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program) was instrumental in assisting the Trulieve expansion.

The RIDC has redeveloped the vast former U.S. Steel site in McKeesport into a thriving, and much quieter, place for expanding industries.

“In 1990 we were leading brownfield redevelopment on this former U.S. Steel site in coordination with Allegheny County,” says RIDC President Donald F. Smith Jr. “Now we’re welcoming companies like Trulieve, Dura-Bond Industries, Trillium Flow Technologies, American Textile Co., and River Materials Inc. to make their new homes here. And the Mon Valley truly has some valuable assets: availability of a talented workforce to fuel expansion and proximity to national transportation and distribution networks.”

It’s an encouraging sign for the long-beleaguered Mon Valley.

“The expansion not only brings employment opportunities but also strength to the local economy,” says State Senator James Brewster. “Trulieve’s expansion in McKeesport is another example of how the Mon Valley continues to grow.”

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.