Today Southern Nevada imports more than 90 percent of its fruits and vegetables. Changing that will likely require an inside job. Literally. Yes, community gardens and home gardening, even in the harsh Mojave Desert, are on the rise, but technology and innovation are also putting their stamp on farming today as well.
And with the recent arrival of a company named Oasis Biotech, Southern Nevada has the unique opportunity to become home to one of the world’s largest hydroponic farms. Hydroponic farming is a method that grows crops in a water and nutrient solution, without the use of soil.
Oasis Biotech is owned by San’an Optoelectronics Co., Ltd., a Chinese technology company who saw success with hydroponic farming efforts in China but wanted to grow the concept internationally. With Las Vegas being a region full of restaurants with high demand for quality fruits and vegetables, and a city that currently imports the great majority of its food, the company began to explore Southern Nevada as its new North American headquarters.
Last year, Oasis Biotech officially opened its doors in Las Vegas by taking occupancy of an existing 215,000 square foot facility, which will, at full operation, be one of the country’s largest vertical farming facilities of its kind.
“We want to help bring innovation to Las Vegas and we couldn’t be happier with the welcome we’ve received,” said Brock Leach, Oasis Biotech’s COO and General Manager.
Significant Capital Investment
So far, Oasis Biotech has invested $30 million locally. That money includes finding a facility, building it out and hiring employees. The startup’s parent company, San’an, owns and developed all of the state-of-the-art LED lighting technology and grow systems used onsite. The Oasis Biotech facility is a completely controlled-environment agricultural farm allowing for strong quality control and food safety programs that eliminate food risk to consumers.
With a goal of adding 150 local jobs within five years, the company already has more than 130 employees – a mix of engineers, technicians and highly-technical scientist positions. Only about 50,000 square feet of the Las Vegas facility is currently in use; at the same time, the site already produces about 1,500 pounds a day of micro greens, baby lettuce, and specialty herbs. The company also created its first consumer-facing brand, Evercress, which is currently sold through long-time local distributor, Get Fresh, which serves local chefs and resort corridor restaurants, among others.
“We had a good feeling there would be a strong demand for a lot of the produce we were going to bring to market,” Leach added.
The facility is truly in its an infant stage, however. The next phase, which will occupy about 15,000 square feet, will involve an automated line allowing the farm to triple its current output. “Future phases will be growing soft fruits like strawberries and raspberries along with rooted vegetables like baby carrots, beets, radishes and more,” Leach said.
The hydroponic farming methods utilize about 90 percent less water than traditional farming and the average time from seed to harvest is around 21 days. The first phase contains 1,094 growth modules, produces 85 varietals and all crops are non-GMO, pesticide, fungicide and herbicide free.
The Southern Nevada Advantage
When seeking out a North American home, Oasis Biotech was looking for a state with a stable business environment and reasonable electricity rates, even though the efficient LED lighting uses about 50 percent less energy than traditional lights, Leach noted.
Oasis Biotech also looked to LVGEA to better understand the market, its players, and to seek out suitable real estate, all while navigating the permitting processes associated with bringing a company like Oasis Biotech to Southern Nevada.
A hydroponic farm requires unique permits and certifications to operate. Leach shared that LVGEA’s help in navigating these processes, as well as its ability to locate experts to find the right facility and introduce the company to local leaders, was key.
“They really gave us a warm welcome that extended into the community…We had to navigate through different governing bodies and understand how the codes apply to a new industry that’s coming here. That’s a big deal. New technologies and existing codes aren’t necessarily always an exact match,” Leach said.
Michael Walsh, LVGEA’s Vice President of Economic Development, says Oasis Biotech is one of the types of industries his organization targets for economic diversification in Southern Nevada. Oasis Biotech brings an emerging technology to Las Vegas and an enterprise that can also leverage Las Vegas as a transportation hub as it expands its product offerings and client base beyond Nevada. Walsh also said his team helped the company to better understand that Las Vegas has the right labor pool to help it prosper.
“At the end of the day what we do is really about taking the uncertainty away as they’re evaluating our state,” Walsh said. “Our CEO always says economic development is a team sport. It’s about that connectivity and community relationships…People typically end up getting a [good] feeling when they see we go beyond providing information from a statistical standpoint.”