With the California cannabis market collapsing due to oversupply – and local growers feeling particular pain – Humboldt County is making its third attempt in the past two years to recruit a Humboldt County cannabis marketing and promotion company.
The marketing effort is funded by a 60 percent budget cut for Project Trellis, the county’s cannabis industry support initiative, funded from local cannabis tax revenues.
When the county launched its first call for marketing proposals in November 2019, it received more than 20 applications from a wide variety of companies. However, like so much else, this process collapsed during the COVID pandemic.
The county tried again last May by launching a new Call for Proposals (RFP), this time limiting applicants to local nonprofits.
In response, the district received only one application. It came from the Humboldt Community Business Development Center (HCBCD), a tax-exempt charity that is part of the better-known Humboldt County Growers Alliance. The HCGA, led by Executive Director Natalynne DeLapp, is a member-based industry group representing local cannabis experts.
Seems easy enough right? If only one applicant reports, he’ll get the gig. Not so fast. At some point in the process, the county received calls and inquiries – including feedback from the Southern Humboldt Business and Visitors Bureau (SHBVB) – suggesting that HCBDC / HCGA was being granted an unfair advantage.
You see, last year, HCGA was hired by the county to develop a cannabis marketing assessment and did a lengthy analysis and series of recommendations to serve as a kind of blueprint for branding and promoting cannabis in Humboldt County.
Scott Adair, the county’s director of economic development, said his department has since used this document as a framework to help out what a marketing initiative might look like.
Some observers of the trial, including the SoHum Bureau, questioned whether a potential conflict of interest was involved – or at least the appearance of one. These critics said it appeared that the call for proposals was written specifically for the HCGA and its affiliate business development agency. Or at least that these groups had a distinct advantage.
After consulting with the California Fair Political Practices Commission and discussing the matter with the district attorney in charge, Adair and his staff decided to start the entire process over.
In a recent telephone conversation with the Outpost, Adair said that while HCBDC and HCGA are separate entities with their own boards of directors and tax identification numbers, there is some overlap between them. DeLapp, for example, is the managing director of both.
“That’s why the district attorney advised us – just to make it very clean and transparent and to protect all parties and even to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest – to abolish the tender,” said Adair.
The county rejected HCBDC’s marketing proposal and announced a new call for proposals in a press release released this morning – with some major differences from the previous round.
On the one hand, profit-oriented companies are allowed to apply this time. Adair said that in Humboldt County, “there aren’t enough nonprofits with enough resources and staff to apply [in the previous process] we have excluded many otherwise qualified applicants. ”
However, applicants must be based in Humboldt County. And Adair said the new tender has “improved language” that addresses conflicts of interest.
The deadline for submitting this latest call is November 22nd – just a month and a week away.
“We aim to move this forward as soon as possible,” said Adair. “We know how bad some of the market conditions are right now and how this is affecting farmers.”
In a statement to the outpost, DeLapp said, “The HCGA and HCBDC are working with the county and the FPPC to determine if there is a legitimate conflict of interest. We look forward to answering these questions once and for all. And then to be able to re-submit our vision of how we can serve the interests of our community. “
Several calls to the SHBVB did not go through – we got the message “All lines are busy”. We also sent an email to the organization but got no feedback before the time of posting.
Here is the district’s latest tender:
The cannabis industry has been a major economic force in Humboldt County for many decades. As cannabis becomes a nationwide industry, the county is looking for ways to maintain a competitive advantage and maintain and strengthen the regional brand.
In order to achieve this goal, the district publishes a new call for proposals (RFP), in which a qualified local unit is sought, who can work with the employees on the development of a marketing strategy for an independent national and industry-specific “branding initiative” for Cannabis grown in Humboldt County operates local cannabis-related products and services.
The selected applicant will serve as the county lead contracting agency for cannabis marketing initiatives, offering a wide range of professional marketing services, including promoting Humboldt County’s cannabis as a unique, high quality product. The applicant will use and apply specific recommendations and findings from the Humboldt County Marketing Assessment. This marketing RFP and the services offered are one of three programs of the county’s Project Trellis, a wide-ranging initiative to support the local cannabis industry.
For information on licensing and format requirements, see the RFP for Common Cannabis Branding, Marketing and Promotion Strategy.
How to apply: See RFP for full application instructions. Electronic submissions must be sent to ProjectTrellis@co.humboldt.ca.us and must be received by November 22, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. at the latest.
Proposals can be published under the California Public Records Act.
About project grid: Project Trellis is a three-tier program designed to support cannabis companies and individuals involved in the Humboldt County’s cannabis industry. The three levels of support of the program include a cannabis business micro-grant program, a local equity program and a cannabis branding from Humboldt County,
Marketing and advertising program. The micro-grant program gives cannabis companies the opportunity to apply for funding to cover business-related expenses. The Local Equity program provides resources to local communities and individuals affected by the war on drugs. The marketing and promotional component was developed to promote and maintain cannabis grown by Humboldt as a national and industrial brand.
For more information, visit the Project Trellis Marketing Program or call Peggy Murphy, Economic Development Specialist at 707-599-0125.