Kern County leads US in agriculture production for first time

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Kern County tops the U.S. in agriculture according the Kern County Farm Bureau.

In 2016, Kern County produced more than $7.1 billion in agriculture with pistachio production leading the way.

According to the bureau, Kern County had never previously held the top spot in the state, let alone the country.

http://www.kerngoldenempire.com/news/local-news/kern-county-leads-us-in-agriculture-production-for-first-time/814380991

Gallo connecting with Stanislaus, Merced county schools to develop workforce

Central Valley Business Journal
By NORA HESTON TARTE

E&J Gallo works with students to train them in becoming part of its workforce.

MODESTO — E&J Gallo Winery is keeping employment local.

It was 2015 when the Modesto-based business noticed a gap in its workforce. There weren’t enough technical employees in the area to fill its needs. Instead of looking to surrounding communities to hire from, the company created a job-ready program with local schools to train high school graduates in the skills the company needed.

In the two years the program has been up and running, Gallo has hired 17 program participants to work at the winery.

“I learned that if you want a good-paying career you don’t need to leave [the area],” Edwin Valdivia Jacobo, a general winery worker who graduated Ceres High School Manufacturing and Green Technology Academy in 2015, said. “I have one here in my own backyard, and I didn’t even know it.”

“The program has helped area youth become better prepared for the world of work and gain real-life experience working in a manufacturing environment,” said Richard Coffey, Senior Director of Workforce development at Gallo. “The program provides all students with the opportunity to learn lifelong skills that are needed to be successful in the workforce, and, if selected for a paid internship, students are able to gain work experience, further develop their skills and ultimately apply for a position within the winery organization.”

The job readiness and internship program developed naturally out of an existing partnership between Gallo and the Ceres High School Manufacturing Academy.

“[Gallo] has been involved with the academy from its inception when we were approached by the school district to help develop the curriculum and study options as well as providing mentors to the program,” Coffey said.

Julessa Nava Ambriz, a level four operator at Gallo and a 2015 Ceres High Graduate, learned of the job readiness program in high school.

“At first, I shrugged it off, because in high school you’re just naïve about everything,” Ambriz said.

Ambriz asked other workers at Gallo about the program and heard lots of positive feedback. She, along with some friends, decided to apply. Her friends never followed through, but Ambriz did.
“Now I really try to tell others that are still in school to pursue it,” she said. “It has given me an opportunity to have a career and start my career and go to school. I can easily progress through the company with a few years under my belt, and it’s a great feeling knowing that I’m not stuck in one spot.”

After its success, Gallo expanded its offering to other schools to include Modesto City Schools, Ceres Unified, Hughson Unified, Turlock Unified, Patterson Unified, Madera Unified and Merced Unified.

Joining the program has several steps. First, candidates apply through their school district. Then, qualified students are invited to complete a 30-hour after-school program that runs once a week for 10 weeks.

The goal is to turn out students that are job ready by teaching them interview skills, résumé writing, communication skills, conflict resolution, change management and lean principles.

“I learned that teamwork and communication is huge part of being part of a company. They tell you that it is, but you really don’t believe it until you experience it,” Ambriz said.

After the job-readiness program is completed, students can apply for internships at Gallo. Performance during the program, including attendance, is taken into consideration.

At first, internships were only available on the operations side. However, after that proved successful, Gallo began offering internships on the winegrowing side as well, in vineyard operations.

“Interns that successfully complete the program are given the opportunity to interview for positions at the end of the internship,” Coffey said.

After the first year’s success, Gallo began working with Modesto City Schools to identify the different career technical education pathways that provided the technical aptitude and knowledge that best meet the company’s current job needs.

“There are so many different opportunities to move up and so many different career choices from … analysis, to marketing, to mechanic — anything you want to pursue, you can,” said Miguel Ortega, another level four operator who completed the internship program through Ceres High.

Opportunity Stanislaus, a local organization dedicated to supporting economic growth and vitality in the community, is helping, too. They pay for students’ WorkKeys tests, a necessary component of joining the workforce program.

The organization is also working to expand the program’s reach, working alongside Gallo employees to determine future needs and train area students to fill those roles. This will include providing targeted technical and manufacturing training programs to support current Gallo employees, including former interns. All programs are being developed to complement existing programs offered by MJC.

The goal is for Opportunity Stanislaus to be a dot connecter, connecting local job seekers with employees and education through partnerships in the community.

 

 

 

Del Monte Closing Indiana Plant, Shifting Work to California

AP
Sept. 12, 2017

Del Monte Foods plans to close a northern Indiana tomato processing plant with about 100 workers and shift its production to a central California facility.

PLYMOUTH, Ind. (AP) — Del Monte Foods plans to close a northern Indiana tomato processing plant with about 100 workers and shift its production to a central California facility.

The company announced Tuesday it would start layoffs in November as it ceases production at the Plymouth, Indiana, plant that makes ketchup, tomato-based sauces, and juice from concentrate. Warehouse and distribution work is expected to end by February, when the facility will close.

Del Monte says in a state filing that it expects the closing will be permanent.

The company says the closing will align its production capacity with current consumer demand. Production will be shifted to a plant in Hanford, California.

Bay Valley Foods said last month it would be closing its Plymouth facilities, eliminating about 150 jobs.

Self-driving cars now roam across former California military facilities

San Francisco Chronicle
By David R. Baker
September 5, 2017

The empty runway stretching before Mark Hendrickson extends so far that its edges vanish in the heat shimmer of a broiling Central Valley afternoon.

Presidents have landed here, back when it was the center of a bustling Air Force base. Aerial firefighters battling blazes in the Sierra foothills touch down here to refill their tankers with water and flame retardant before taking off for another run.

Part of it already is. Google leased a 91.5-acre chunk of the base in 2014, sealing it off from the rest with a black fence. Now, white Chrysler minivans topped with sensors run daily tests through a maze of refurbished streets, complete with a rain tunnel to simulate bad weather.

“When Google came in here, it opened up a number of eyes,” Hendrickson said. “Other industry leaders started coming to us as well and saying, ‘What if?’”

The base could allow automakers and tech companies to put autonomous cars through the kinds of tests they can’t easily or safely do in public: situations where cars must navigate the same oddly shaped intersection over and over again, or where they must evade other cars intentionally darting into their way.

The stereo speaker company giving sight to self-driving cars

“This is a very large piece of concrete — a lot of things could happen here,” Hendrickson said, admiring the 2-mile-long runway. “It’s off the beaten path, and you’re not going to bother anybody.”

So far, two facilities have emerged to meet the need.

Google, whose self-driving unit now goes by the name Waymo, uses Castle, and Hendrickson said several automakers stand poised to follow suit, though he declined to name them.

Meanwhile, Honda, Uber and two other companies test their vehicles at a former naval base outside Concord. Renamed GoMentum Station by Contra Costa County officials, the old Concord Naval Weapons Station features a cluster of old buildings that can simulate a small town, while the streets linking rows of munitions bunkers can mimic a city grid.

Officials at each facility say they don’t consider the other competition. There’s more than enough demand to go around.

“Anything we can do to accelerate this technology, we’ll do,” said Randell Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which runs GoMentum Station. “There’s definitely a need for secure test beds. You can’t close down a city street and run the same maneuver over and over again without people complaining.”

Iwasaki first hit upon the idea after then-Contra Costa County Supervisor Susan Bonilla told him to take a look at the old weapons depot and figure out ways it could generate jobs.

“As soon as I got out here, I thought this would be an amazing test facility,” Iwasaki said. “It’s clean, it’s wide-open and it’s guarded by the military.”

“You have buildings, trees, shadowing, sidewalks — everything you need,” Iwasaki said.

Two tunnels nearby show companies how their cars behave when cut off from GPS signals. A long, straight road, meanwhile, has been re-striped to look like an interstate highway. An autonomous big rig from Uber’s self-driving truck division, formerly known as Otto, rumbled back and forth. Not far away, Honda engineers had set up a portable traffic light next to a row of grass-covered bunkers.

At 5,000 acres, the sprawling base is big enough that multiple companies can test there at once without peering over each other’s shoulders. (Chinese Internet giant Baidu also uses the site.) Locked and guarded gates keep out the public, creating a wide-open space populated by fat, burrowing squirrels, flocks of wild turkeys and very few humans.

Although both Concord and the county have long-term plans to redevelop much of the site with housing, offices and parkland, Iwasaki says a portion will be reserved for GoMentum. The station may someday serve as a way to lure tech companies into opening offices there.

“We want those jobs to keep some of our people, so they don’t have to drive south on Interstate 680 every morning,” Iwasaki said.

The base closed as a military installation in 1995, and the county took over ownership in 2006. The Castle Commerce Center, as it’s now known, has about 80 tenants, including a startup designing rocket engines and a UC Merced office researching drones.

While old barracks pocked with shattered windows dot parts of the base, the entire facility has working water, electricity and sewer services, as well as broadband Internet. Waymo, Hendrickson said, even rehabbed some of the buildings into dorms for its engineers.

Waymo declined to let a Chronicle reporter tour its facility.

Hendrickson credited Google with having the idea of using part of the base for self-driving research.

“We did not envision that — it was a little bit of luck,” he said.

Now, however, he sees all the ways that other companies could use Castle for the same purpose. The base features intersections where roads meet at strange angles — potentially confusing a self-driving car. Large hangars can store cars, so companies don’t need to constantly bring vehicles to and from the base.

And for foreign automakers, the airstrip can allow easy access for visiting company executives. Although part of the strip may be redeveloped, most of it will stay open for air traffic.

Hendrickson, however, doesn’t just want Castle to serve as a testing facility. Merced County’s unemployment rate stood at 9.7 percent in July, and the county wants some of the old base used for manufacturing. Castle competed to host Tesla’s battery Gigafactory, but lost out to a site near Reno.

“Are we going to be a place that builds rockets,” Hendrickson said. “Probably not. But can we be a place where components of rockets are built? Absolutely.”

That said, Hendrickson believes Castle can play a key role in keeping California at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle industry.

“While Detroit has been, historically, the global epicenter, the reality is that California has a unique opportunity to be the epicenter for the 21st century,” he said. “And we fully intend to be part of that.”

Electric Vehicles In The Central Valley Could Get A Big Boost Thanks To The VW Settlement

NPR for Central Valley
SEP 12, 2017

A major scandal rocked the auto industry two years ago when it was discovered that the car company Volkswagen had been systematically cheating on diesel emissions tests. That scandal might soon turn into a big boon for electric cars in the Central Valley.

The company agreed to a massive settlement worth more than $1 billion. Over the next ten years, $800 million is supposed to be spent in California to beef up electric car infrastructure and access.  Of that, 35%, or about $280 million, is earmarked for low income and high pollution areas like Fresno, Bakersfield and much of the rest of the San Joaquin Valley.

Joel Espino, with the environmental advocacy group The Greenlining Institute, says the focus is on these areas because they have suffered the most due to VW’s deceit.

“Those emissions, those extra emission, that were put into the air, didn’t affect everyone equally. A lot of the communities who live near busy roads and freeways, low-income communities of color, were harmed the most as a result,” Espino says.

There are more than 66,000 registered electric vehicles in the Central Valley according to the CA DMV

So now a plan is in motion to build up the support network needed to make electric cars viable in low-income areas and across the broad rural plains of the valley.

Dean Florez is with the California Air Resources Control Board, which helped craft the settlement.

He says previously the Central Valley was not appealing for companies to set up charging stations on their own. This led to a chicken and egg scenario, where there aren’t enough places to charge so people are turned off by EVs but there aren’t enough EVs for companies to install charging stations.

“I mean it is kind of like asking someone to buy an IPhone, having it fully charged. And then leaving the store and being told you can only charge it at the local post office which might be 30 or 40 miles away.” Florez says.

Florez sees this settlement as just the boost electric vehicles need. And it’s coming at a time when electric vehicles seem to be finding their niche. This year, EVs are expected to represent about 3% of new car sales state wide. That would be an all-time high.

According to the California DMV, there are almost 168,000 all electric vehicles registered in the state.

“We really want folks to feel like even though they can’t charge at home, they still will have the ability to charge out in the world. You know, you can’t put gas in your car at you home. Most people don’t have a gas station at their house. So it%u2019s really it’s no different than that”-Jamie Hold

At this point, it is unclear where the stations will actually go. However, Florez says they have an agreement with Volkswagen to check in every month and make chargers are being spread out to the areas that most need them, not just the areas where they will be most used.

“Unless we have more density in terms of infrastructure, getting the Central Valley, which is dire need of mobile source reduction in pollution, to move to EVs is almost an impossibility,” Florez says.

This new plan could help people like Jessi Fierro, who is a busy mother of two young children and with a typically packed family car.

“It’s kind of a mom mobile. I manage to keep the front pretty clear. But you will see in the back I have both my car seats ready to go,” Feirro says pointing to car seats in her car at her office.

She drives a Chevy Bolt. That’s an all-electric car with a range of about 230 miles, which for electric cars is really good.  She is lucky because her office offers a charging station for her.

Still, Fierro says she is always aware of where the next charging station is and sometimes plans her trips around them.

Jessi Fierro poses next to her bolt.
CREDIT JEFFREY HESS/KVPR

“And when I have taken my longer trips out of town I am trying to find destinations close to chargers, just so the kids aren’t getting too fussy while I am charging my car. But for the most part, when I am putzing about town I know where a handful of charges are. And actually there are aps too for your phone so you can say ‘I am going to be here. Where are chargers nearby,’” Fierro asks.

Fierro says she has no regrets about going electric and rarely charges her car at home, preferring to find chargers in the wild.

Some possible sites for the new chargers include workplaces, grocery stores, public parks and big box retailers with their massive parking lots. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says they are working to convince, and financially incentivize, businesses to install the chargers for their employees and customers.

Frequent and convenient charging stations are perhaps the most critical part of the plan according to Jamie Holt with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

“We need charging stations to be as prevalent throughout the valley as gas stations are now,” Holt says.

She says they are trying to change hearts and minds about the reliability of access to power for electric vehicles, especially for people who live in apartments or park on the street where at-home charging is not possible.

“We really want folks to feel like even though they can’t charge at home, they still will have the ability to charge out in the world. You know, you can’t put gas in your car at you home. Most people don’t have a gas station at their house. So it’s really it’s no different than that,” Holt says.

Holt says the more the cars saturate the market, the more likely it is people will become more comfortable with the idea of driving an electric car. She also says they are working to break the perception that electric cars are only something that rich people on the coast use.

To that end, she says there are a wealth of rebate and pre-bate programs, some that are income based, to help low and moderate income families go electric. And especially in the valley, those families could stand to the benefit the most.

Sungrow Wins 205MW Utility-Scale Project Deal in California’s Central Valley

Newswire.ca
FREMONT, Calif.
Sept. 4, 2017
By Jade Luo

Sungrow, the global leading PV inverter system solution supplier, announced that it would supply 205MW of central inverters for a utility-scale solar project in California’s Central Valley.

The Central Valley is home to many of California’s solar farms because of its abundant land space and frequent sunshine. It experiences high temperatures in the summer months, putting significant wear-and-tear on solar hardware. The power plant is expected to be completed in late 2017 using Sungrow’s newest 1500V turnkey central inverter solution, the SG2500U.

The product is designed for easy integration–with a containerized pre-integrated option also available–and simplified installation making it the ideal plug and play solution for utility-scale systems. For O&M, all serviceable components can be accessed externally, meaning lower repair times and service costs. In addition, the product is one of the first 1500V inverters be listed with the stringent UL 1741-SA certification required for most North American projects.

“Sungrow is always committed to technical innovation which drives our rapid growth. We will continue to offer better products and solutions to customers globally”, said Professor Renxian Cao.

The project signifies Sungrow’s rapid growth into North America, being the company’s largest project win in the continent since it entered the market in 2011. Earlier this year, the company announced it shipped an unprecedented 10.9 GW in the first half of 2017, moving up from its already impressive 11.1GW number for 2016.

About Sungrow

Sungrow is a global leading inverter solution supplier for renewables with over 49GW installed worldwide as of June 2017. Founded in 1997 by University Professor Renxian Cao, Sungrow is a global leader in research and development in solar inverters, with numerous patents and a broad product portfolio offering PV inverter systems as well as energy storage systems for utility-scale, commercial, and residential applications. With a 20-year track record of growth and success, Sungrow’s products are available in over 50 countries, maintaining a market share of around 25% in Germany and over 15% globally. Learn more about Sungrow by visiting: http://www.sungrowpower.com

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SOURCE SUNGROW Power Supply Co., Ltd