picture of Ashton Harper
‘A CLIMATE-CONTROLLED RAINFOREST’: Ashton Harper’s family business creates state-of-the-art buildings for the medical marijuana industry. Brian Chilson

A new kind of green construction has brought some unexpected business to one Central Arkansas company. 

HARCO Constructors, a family-owned general contractor in Maumelle, has built two medical marijuana cultivation facilities and three dispensaries. When a third cultivation facility is completed this year, HARCO will have built three of the state’s maximum eight cultivation facilities. 

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The projects have been good for business at the firm, but it’s not something project manager Ashton Harper ever imagined he’d be involved in. 

“Not in my wildest dreams,” said Harper, son of one of the company founders. 

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HARCO’s first medical marijuana project was the cultivation facility for Natural State Medicinals in White Hall. The project was a learning experience, Harper said. 

Harper likens the cultivation projects to building a “climate-controlled rainforest inside a metal building” with technology that can control the temperature and humidity to a fraction of a degree. 

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When state regulators awarded the first licenses for medical marijuana cultivation facilities in 2018, HARCO Constructors was out of luck. None of the applicants who had planned to use them for construction had been awarded a license, but some of the applicants that did receive licenses were impressed with HARCO and heard good things about them from the other applicants. 

“That kind of got our foot in the door and we hit the ground running from there,” Harper said.

Founded by brothers Chuck and Keith Harper in 1985, HARCO is a general contractor with about 25 employees at its Maumelle office. The company takes the lead on construction projects but hires subcontractors to perform nearly all of the trades. As the project manager, Harper keeps a close eye on the timeline and the budget. 

“The central focus is getting the client in operation as quickly as possible and staying within budget,” he said.

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The buildings contain state-of-the-art systems for heating, ventilation and air conditioning and have high electrical demands. 

“These cultivation facilities require quite a bit more juice or power than your typical building would,” Harper said. 

HARCO has also built the Delta Medical Cannabis Company cultivation facility in Newport, Purspirit Cannabis Company dispensary in Fayetteville, Delta Cannabis Company dispensary in West Memphis and Custom Cannabis in Alexander. Some of the projects have been renovations, while others have been new builds.

The Carpenter Farms Medical Group cultivation facility should be completed in two or three months, according to owner Abraham Carpenter Jr. HARCO’s experience in building medical marijuana facilities has been a benefit to building the new facility in Grady, according to Carpenter. 

“[HARCO’s experience] is certainly a plus, because they’re able to identify any potential problems,” Carpenter said. 

When Ashton Harper’s father told him he’d be working on a marijuana project, he thought his dad was joking, but he said doing construction in the new industry has made for interesting work and it’s brought in a lot of new business to the company. 

“It’s very exciting to go to work every day,” Harper said. “Being able to build a medical marijuana cultivation facility is an interesting thing to get to do every day and I love my job.” 

Security 

One of the most advanced features of the state’s medical marijuana facilities is the security. 

The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division places strict security requirements on the facilities. Much of the facility must be under constant video surveillance, including “any room used to grow, process, manufacture or store marijuana,” according to ABC regulations. That means every square foot of the grow operation must be seen by cameras at all times. 

While building their first facility for Natural State Medicinals, Harper said he learned just how comprehensive the surveillance cameras need to be. 

“[ABC agents] have to walk around the entire building and not be lost [by surveillance cameras],” Harper said. “There can’t be one foot where they are not surveilled by the cameras.” 

Progressive Technologies, a Memphis-based electrical and security firm with offices in Sherwood and Rogers, has worked with more than five Arkansas medical marijuana facilities, according to Rodney Jackson who works in business development for the company. (Jackson said he could not name the exact facilities because of nondisclosure agreements). 

The company has helped meet the security needs of the facilities as well as install the technology. Jackson said Arkansas has strict security requirements for medical marijuana facilities but advancements in technology like wide-angle lenses and 360-degree cameras have made it easier to satisfy those requirements. 

“We can drop a 360 camera in a room and cover every inch of the room,” Jackson said. The security needs of Arkansas’s marijuana facilities aren’t necessarily different from Progressive’s other clients, such as schools, but they do require a lot more of it, Jackson said. For instance, marijuana facilities need security cameras that run constantly rather than only when they detect motion. The facilities also have many intrusion-sensing devices, such as glass break sensors and cameras, so the detection of an intruder would be instantaneous. 

The security features required by ABC also include biometric data, such as fingerprints, as part of access control within the facilities, Jackson said. 

“Arkansas facilities, from what I’ve seen throughout the country, are probably more secure than any other state,” Jackson said. “These facilities are very secure.”