Tech sector growing vibrantly throughout Central Valley

by Phillip Lan
August 23, 2017
The Central Valley Business Journal

Chances are, when you think of the Central Valley, you think about tomato trucks rumbling down the freeway or shakers knocking down almonds amidst endless rows of trees. You probably don’t think about modern tech companies or millennials working while sipping lattes in open, co-working spaces. But an ever-increasing group of local techies and entrepreneurs are working to change that.

Over the last few decades, the Central Valley’s tech community has been growing — slowly and under the radar. Local commuters working in Bay Area tech companies and tech-related professionals in Central Valley companies now number thousands across the region. Many software developers, often known as coders or hackers, have begun gathering at fun local events such as the Modesto-based Valley Hackathon (https://valleyhackathon.com/), a programming contest where Star Wars-costumed teams furiously write computer code to win thousands in cash and prizes.

Local business leaders who see the economic benefit tech jobs can bring to the region have also jumped in to accelerate the development of a tech community in the Central Valley. Launched several years ago, The Huddle is a co-working space in downtown Stockton which provides entrepreneurs a place to collaborate and create synergies to help each other’s companies grow. Tech startups in Sacramento now have communities like Hacker Lab where they can co-locate with other companies and get access to mentors and resources to improve revenue trajectory. In Fresno, Geekwise Academy has trained thousands of people to develop software over the past few years and its parent company, Bitwise Industries (http://bitwiseindustries.com/), has helped create over 1,000 tech-related jobs in the region. Bitwise now partners with Amazon to train developers on the latest platforms and eventually plans to occupy 2.5 million square feet of commercial space in downtown Fresno.

In Modesto, ValleyWorx, a tech and digital design co-working hub, will begin taking applications from tech companies and entrepreneurs later this month. One of its first tenants will be Bay Valley Tech (http://bayvalleytech.com/), a code academy focused on providing affordable hands-on software skills to working professionals and students preparing to enter the work force. Locating tech students and tech companies in the same building will allow students to more easily find internships and jobs. At the same time, companies based out of ValleyWorx will have access to an ever-expanding talent pool proficient in the latest technologies.

You may be wondering how all of these “geeks” are going to help the rest of our non-tech economy. By creating a thriving tech community in the Central Valley, we will make it a more attractive place for software professionals to settle.

Senior software engineers in California now earn an average salary of $129,000, and some make over $200,000 annually, according to Indeed.com. Not only will ‘hackers’ infuse disposable income into our local economy, their presence will attract Bay Area firms looking for tech talent.

For example, Oportun, a Redwood City-based venture-backed company, set up a software development office in downtown Modesto two years ago and is already outgrowing their space due to rapid hiring. Their executives indicated availability of software talent as a key driver for expanding into the Central Valley.

Other Bay Area companies are also considering expanding to Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto due to the availability of high-tech talent.

In order to continue the momentum and attract even more tech companies to the Central Valley, local businesses, non-profits and government entities are working to do the following:

  1. Create more events such as the Valley Hackathon, 59 Days of Code and Valley Software Developers Meetups in Modesto (https://www.meetup.com/Valley-Software-Developers/) and Stockton (https://www.meetup.com/Valley-Software-Developers-Stockton/) to pull the existing tech community together.
  2. Launch co-working spaces such as The Huddle and ValleyWorx to facilitate collaboration, mentoring and growth.
  3. Expand the Central Valley’s tech community by training thousands more local residents to become software literate through code academies such as Geekwise and Bay Valley Tech. Learning software development skills will help thousands of workers capitalize on upcoming transformative industries such as ag tech, manufacturing automation and self-driving transportation (which all heavily leverage software).

The creation of a growing tech-enabled workforce will make the Central Valley an attractive investment destination for Bay Area tech companies who are now overlooking this region and expanding out of state to cities such as Austin, Denver, Seattle and Portland.The Central Valley needs more high-paying jobs, local residents need a realistic path into software-related careers to prepare for the changing world and Bay Area tech workers need affordable housing.

According to a recent poll by the Bay Area Council, a staggering 46 percent of millennials (people age 18 to 39) living in the San Francisco Bay Area say they’re now ready to leave one of the nation’s most unaffordable housing markets. Many have already left California, expanding the tech talent pool in other states.

As high paying software job openings continue to outpace the supply of programmers in California, this is the perfect time for Central Valley leaders to come together and create a win-win-win solution. A tech ecosystem generating exciting, well-paying jobs will also encourage local students to participate in junior high, high school and college programming and robotics initiatives.

Jumpstarting a tech economy in our ag-focused Central Valley is undoubtedly a Herculean task requiring a community-wide effort. Here are a few opportunities for business and community leaders who would like to help:

  1. Sponsor Stockton’s upcoming Valley Hackathon in October (https://valleyhackathon.com/BecomeASponsor).
  2. Contribute to a code academy scholarship fund.
  3. Sign up as a corporate sponsor of the Bay Valley Tech code academies in Stockton and Modesto.

Surfing Ranch could open soon

Visalia Time-Delta

by John Lindt
 Aug. 4, 2017

Getting stoked over surf ranch

If you can plop down a critical US Navy base 120 miles from the ocean, why scratch your head when you hear about a 155-acre competitive surfing event center, a ”Surf Ranch” located near Lemoore?

That’s the vision of famed surfer Kelly Slater, who owns a permitted wave generation complex originally built on a man-made lake, 700 yards long and 70 yards wide, designed for water-skiing. With some major upgrades and tweaks to the wave generation options, Slater and his investors now plan to expand the operation year-round. It will be open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., according to a new conditional use permit application filed with the county this summer.

The application says the ranch will be staffed with 50 employees, who will continue to do development of prototype wave generation systems.

The application also states the facility will offer recreational use and competitive surfing events with outdoor music and camping for visitors. They are asking for a permit to hold large events – attracting as many as 8,000 visitors for three-day events, six times a year.

USC partners with Kern Medical Center to open Central Valley’s first dedicated epilepsy neurology center

THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN
BY HAROLD PIERCE 

By next month, local epilepsy patients won’t have to travel so far for complex procedures.

That’s because Kern Medical Center has partnered with the University of Southern California’s Neurorestoration Center to bring an epilepsy program and center to Bakersfield. It’s the first time USC has partnered with a Kern County healthcare provider.

“There is no comprehensive epilepsy center in the Central Valley. Fresno does not have one, the Central Coast does not have one, and Bakersfield did not have one,” said Dr. Joseph Chen, an adjunct associate professor at USC who serves as the new chief of neurosurgery at Kern Medical Center.

“It’s one of the most common neurological conditions. We knew there was a need here in the Central Valley.”

Chen estimates there are about 10,000 people suffering from medically intractable epilepsy in Kern County, but anticipates drawing patients from as far north as Fresno. The center would be the only one in the Central Valley that offers complex neurosurgery services for epileptics, Chen said.

Next month, for example, a patient is having an open brain surgery where Dr. Charles Yu Liu, the chief epilepsy surgeon, will remove a “focus of tissue” that is causing seizures, Chen said.

“My guess is that probably will be the first procedure of its kind performed anywhere in the area,” Chen said.

Patients needing those types of procedures have historically gone to hospitals in Los Angeles and Sacramento, Chen added.

“That’s a tremendous hardship for many of these patients. Many epileptic patients can’t work, so they have limited resources. Many depend upon caregivers, so making a journey of more than 100 miles can be an undue hardship for them,” Chen said.

The disorder is a complex service line that requires a multidisciplinary team of neurosurgeons, neurologists, radiologists, and sometimes psychiatrists during a course of treatment, Chen said.

 Those are all things the partnership with USC would bring to KMC.

In other cases, USC and KMC plucked local doctors, like epilepsy neurologist Dr. Hari Veedu, to help lead the new center who have established private practices. They were wooed, he said, by the resources USC provides.

If a patient requires an investigational procedure, for example, he or she could be sent to Los Angeles but would be treated by the same team doing the surgery in Kern, Chen said.

Chen described it as proof “this can be done in a safety-net hospital,” and that a sophisticated center doesn’t have to be established through a wealthy privately-supported hospital.

USC’s first goal through the partnership, Chen said, is to provide care to the impoverished.