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Robert Rodriguez, region manager for West Coast distribution for Hilti, Inc., a European maker of industrial tools, stands in one of two distribution centers his company has in the Visalia Industrial Park, along with a separate repair building. He said the park is a sweet spot for transporting goods within a day across California and to much of Arizona and Nevada. Photo by David Castellon

Published On March 14, 2018 – 1:50 PM

With work underway to build Amazon and Ulta fulfillment centers in south Fresno, and plans to convert a former tire plant in Hanford into an electric car plant, three new buildings totaling more than 400,000 square feet in the Visalia Industrial Park didn’t grab a lot of attention from the general public.

But among people involved in manufacturing, warehousing and other businesses needing large spaces, the buildings commissioned by Diversified Development Group in Fresno, which has been developing and leasing commercial structures here for more than two decades, has drawn a lot of attention.

So much so that DDG, which built the buildings on spec, had two of the buildings leased or were negotiating leases on them with multiple tenants before construction was done. DDG Vice President Marcus Pignotti said he believes a lease deal for a single business to entirely occupy the 166,000-square foot third building is close at hand.

With that kind of interest among businesses to get into the Visalia Industrial Park, “That explains why we’re in site plan review for our next four buildings,” that would comprise another 689,000 square feet of combined industrial space on a separate, 33-acre parcel in the Industrial Park in northwest Visalia, Pignotti said.

Beyond that, DDG purchased last year another 150 acres of undeveloped land in the Industrial Park, where the company plans to build up to three million more square feet of industrial space, which could include a single, 1 million-square foot building, he said.

DDG isn’t the only business looking to develop or expand in the Visalia Industrial Park.

From 2016-2017, Visalia issued permits for more than 804,000 square feet of new buildings in the Industrial Park. In fact, in terms of new industrial development and expansions, experts say the Visalia Industrial Park and the neighboring Visalia Business Research Park are some the most active commercial real estate spots in the Valley after south Fresno.

Beside what DDG has in store, the former Heller Performance Polymers plant on Doe Avenue has been demolished, the ground leveled and now the owners are planning to build two 400,000 and more than 300,000 square-foot buildings there once they line up tenants, said Marty Zeeb, a Visalia commercial real estate broker.

In addition, UPS, which has had a distribution center in the Industrial Park for decades, has gotten so busy shipping packages that it recently purchased 58 acres, with plans to build a second state-of-the-art distribution center in the Industrial Park, while Golden State Overnight — a regional shipping service — has outgrown its facility, and is building a new, nearly 63,000-square-foot-facility.

Meanwhile, Perfection Pet Food — a division of Goshen’s Western Milling — is building a nearly 152,000-square-foot office and distribution center, while Hydrite Chemical Co. recently completed a more than $16.1 million expansion and capital improvement project.

That doesn’t include the 100-acre Research Park, where a 94-room Marriott Residence Inn and an Arco AM/PM convenience store and gas station are being built near the Fresno Pacific University satellite campus and two car dealerships already on the mostly vacant set of parcels.

It’s a far cry from the area’s modest beginnings in the mid 1960s, when businessmen Al Blain, Dana Clancy and Lloyd Pendergraft spearheaded an effort to widen Visalia’s mostly ag-based economy by creating sites zoned for various sorts of industrial businesses and purchased “not the best farmland” from Florence Doe, recalled Harry Tow, who was city manager at the time.

“They thought we needed an industrial park where industry didn’t have to think about putting in utilities and streets. It was done for them,” he said, adding that Blain, Clancy and Pendergraft had Visalia’s best interests at heart — so much so that as far as Tow knows, Blain, Clancy ad Pendergraft “didn’t make a dime off it.”

In the five decades or so since, the Business Park has grown from a handful of businesses to 379 — from Far West Distributors, which employs just five people, to VF Outdoor, a clothing distribution center employing about 1,200.

It isn’t just your usual industrial park with one big building or several comparable buildings and warehouses occupying one parcel. Instead, the Visalia Industrial Park is like a city in a city comprised of more than 16.6 million square feet of buildings occupying 381 acres spread over multiple blocks, with different buildings constructed in their own, particular styles.

Based on 2015 U.S. Census estimates, the latest figure Visalia officials could provide, 6,932 people worked at the Industrial Park, a third of them Visalia residents. Considering the expansions and new developments since then, the number likely has grown.

Before the recession, new developments were active in the Industrial Park but lulled in the years the economy spiraled, Zeeb said. But as that period passed and the economy improved, developers started actively planning again in 2013 and 2014, and over the last two or three years a lot construction and permitting has followed, he said.

The Industrial Park has several tenants with national and international reach, mostly involved in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, including Jo-Ann Stores, Inc., VF and VWR — the latter a global supplier of lab and pharmaceutical supplies.

One of the main reasons is that Visalia is a “sweet spot” for most businesses with customers on the West Coast, whether they’re individuals ordering items via the web or department stores and other business selling those goods, said Robert Rodriguez, region manager for West Coast distribution for Hilti, Inc., a European maker of industrial tools which operates two distribution buildings and a separate repair center in the Visalia Industrial Park.

“Its a great spot for transit time,” he said.

Of course, Fresno can make the same claim, and Amazon officials have acknowledged that’s a big part of why it’s locating its 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center there.

The Visalia Industrial Park was in consideration for the Amazon and Ulta facilities, as well as a fulfillment center for Nordstrom department stores in 2016, but they all went elsewhere.

“We’re not chasing the big fish only,” said Devon Jones, Visalia’s economic development manager, noting that leasing several 25,000-squre foot buildings can create as many jobs locally as a single “big fish” tenant.

He noted that if an Amazon-sized business or a larger one ever wants to locate here, there remains about 1,000 acres of undeveloped pre-zoned land in the Industrial Park still available, all with sewage and other utilities close by to connect.

In fact, the City of Visalia last year submitted a proposal for Amazon to build its second headquarters in the city, along with numerous other U.S. cities that included Fresno.

Though the ecommerce giant opted not to consider any California sites, Mayor Warren Gubler said Amazon officials indicated they were “surprised” in a positive way by Visalia’s proposal, “and we weren’t even in their radar, and [now] we’re on their radar.

Among the selling points for the Industrial Park that several of the people interviewed noted is its close access to Highways 99 and 198.

In addition, “UPS is our best salesman, because you’ll have large companies that have locations on the East Coast and the South, the Indiana-Ohio area, Dallas. And when they need West Coast, UPS just looks at our area, Visalia being the perfect spot,” and recommends it, said Pignotti, noting that businesses increasingly rely on next-day delivery, and having a UPS hub literally blocks away in the Industrial Park is a big plus, as is having other next-day shippers there, including FedEx, Golden State Overnight and OnTrac.

Pignotti also credited Visalia’s government, which in recent years has streamlined the processes for permitting construction to the point that Jones said some permit applications can be approved within 30 days.

“Sometimes, less than that,” he said. “Because that’s the last thing somebody wants, being in some municipality where it takes forever to get a permit and get started, and they’ve had a delay, and they don’t want to do that again,” Pignotti said.

Among the reasons DDG builds in Visalia is “They’ve always met their timelines, they work with you, they get things going quickly. They don’t just sit around, so it has been good,” Pignotti said, adding that some cities can be extra attentive for Amazon-sized projects but are much less to smaller ones.

Rodriguez agreed, adding that “In the Hilti world — and we are global — Visalia is in discussions, mainly because of the support by the city and the [Visalia] Economic Development Corp.”

So much so that Hilti — which landed in the industrial park in the 1990s; moved later to a larger, 45,000-square-foot distribution center; opened a second, 20,000-sqare-foot distribution center; and opened a separate tool repair shop — is eyeing the industrial park to expand further, possibly tripling the current size of its distribution operations there, he said.

“My own personal perspective is Visalia has an excellent business park, and it’s known and it’s growing. There are warehouses and businesses going up left and right.”

Gas supplier building new facility at Port of Stockton

STOCKTON — A well-known national company that supplies industrial, specialty and medical gases announced Tuesday it will construct a new production facility at the Port of Stockton before the end of the year.

Airgas USA LLC plans on subleasing property from existing port tenant Pacific Ethanol along Navy Drive, where it will build a plant producing liquid carbon dioxide. The process involves using CO2 byproduct from Pacific Ethanol’s production facility.

The CO2 that Airgas produces will support the manufacturing of dry ice used in a variety of applications from water treatment and food chilling to freezing systems, brewing and winemaking, the company said in its statement.

Up to 30 people will be needed to operate the new Stockton facility, working in manufacturing, distribution and management, according to Airgas spokeswoman Kim Menard.

When asked about the cost of the project, Menard responded: “It is our company policy to not disclose project costs.”

She said construction is scheduled to start “soon” and the facility is expected to be up and running sometime in the second half of this year.

Once the Stockton plant is operational, the company said Airgas will have three “strategically located” plants producing CO2 throughout California.

Upon learning of the Airgas announcement, Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce President Diane Vigil said, “Any new commerce that comes to our community and generates jobs is great. I’m excited about this opportunity.”

Airgas, based in Radnor, Pennsylvania, is a subsidiary of Air Liquide that bills itself as a worldwide supplier of gases, technology and services for industry and health. Air Liquide is headquartered in Paris.


Two out of an order of 10 all-electric buses have been received by the city of Porterville at a cost of about $820,000 each.

Published On March 16, 2018 – 4:57 PM
Written By David Castellon

Porterville is a step closer to becoming one the first U.S. cities with a primary fleet of all-electric commuter buses.

On Wednesday, the city made its payment on the first two of 10 38-passsenger buses ordered from GreenPower Motor Co., which did the final assembly of the buses at its temporary manufacturing facility within two large hangars at the Porterville Municipal Airport.

Portions of the assembly also occurred in Taiwan and China.

The Canadian-based electric bus manufacturer is in the process of building a 125,000-square-foot factory across the street from the Porterville airport, where it plans to fully assemble up to 150 buses a year. And depending on how many bus orders go through in the coming years, the factory could expand up to 300,000 square feet and double its rate of bus production, said Brendan Riley, GreenPower’s president.

Porterville actually took possession of the two $822,000 buses on March 8, but the cost isn’t coming from city coffers. Instead the purchases are fully funded through $9.5 million in grants from the California Air Resources Board, which besides paying for the 10 buses also will cover the purchase and installation of 11 charging stations for them.

“Funding for this project is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program that puts billions of cap-and-trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy and improving public health and the environment — particularly in disadvantaged communities. The cap-and-trade program also creates a financial incentive for industries to invest in clean technologies and develop innovative ways to reduce pollution,” Leslie Goodbody, an engineer for the Air Resources Board, said in a written statement.

Porterville Transit Manager Richard Tree said one of the charging stations will be installed at the Porterville Transit Center, while the rest will be installed at the city maintenance yard, where most city buses are parked overnight.

For this order, GreenPower enlarged the batteries from the normal size of its EV 350 buses, extending their capacities to 400 kilowatt hours from 320 and the buses’ driving range to 250 miles on a single charge.

Riley said the Porterville buses will travel up to 230 miles a day on their routes, so they shouldn’t have to recharge until they’re finished for the day, eliminating the need to swap out buses to charge them during the day.

Though the city has the two of the new buses, Tree said they may not be put into service for another 45 days, as Porterville Transit logos still need to be adhered to them, while GreenPower will help the city conduct field tests and train transit drivers on the new buses.

Once they’re on the road, two diesel buses will be retired, and the Porterville’s 16 compressed natural gas-powered buses will continue to be used while they’re retired at a slower rate through 2029, said Tree, adding that once all the GreenPower buses are delivered, they will be the primary buses working city bus routes.

Riley said GreenPower will make another bus it owns available to Porterville on occasions when the city needs it.

As for the rest of Porterville’s bus order, Riley noted that the first two buses took six months to build, and the next three are expected to be ready in May, while the remaining five could be ready in mid summer.

As for the new GreenPower factory, he said the initial facility could be finished by the end of summer.

Faraday Future requests first permit

By John Lindt


    Faraday Future clean up day
    Electric car company Faraday Future hosted a clean-up event in Hanford on Aug. 5 after signing a lease on the old Pirelli tire plant to make it a manufacturing facility. The company’s employees and local Hanford and Kings County officials attended the event.

    Now, for the first time, we are seeing activity. This week the city site-plan-review meeting will include contractors and consultants for Faraday Future discussing the remodel of the big building with city staff.

    Also, Community Development Director Darlene Mata says she expects the filing for the first permit for the company, a demolition permit for the interior of the building.

    “There is plenty going on behind the scenes,” advises Mata.

     At a February supplier conference in L.A., a company spokesman discussed the Hanford plant and their new car-FF 91. ”Our Hanford factory project is developing according to our planned schedule, and we appreciate the support given to us by the City of Hanford,” said Dag Reckhorn, SVP of Global Manufacturing. “We are well into the process of design and permitting and have begun planning our recruitment cadence. As of Feb. 1, the property has been completely vacated, so we will move forward on construction and equipment by the end of the quarter. We remain on an aggressive, yet workable timeline of year-end delivery for FF 91.”

    Merced County Hopes A Deal With Port Of L.A. Turns Former Air Force Base Into Manufacturing Hub

      MAR 6, 2018

    Just outside the city of Merced, slightly east of Highway 99 is what used to be Castle Air Force Base. Like most areas of the Valley, it’s rural. Across the road from the center are train tracks, and you can hear the railroad crossing signals ding. This unincorporated area of Merced County will soon become an inland port.

    Now, there isn’t any water around; we’re still in the Central Valley. It won’t be the kind of port that serves ships and boats. It will be a place for products to be built and materials consolidated, and then sent to the Port of Los Angeles.

    Today, two-thirds of the nearly-2,000 acre base is still an airfield, but the rest of it is the Castle Commerce Center.

    “This is a site that has roughly about 75 tenants, about a 100 different lease holds,” says Mark Hendrickson, directory of community and economic development for Merced County. “We generate about $2.9 million in lease revenue.”

    Merced County is hoping to use a portion of the former Castle Air Force Base as a hub for manufacturing and distribution in the Central Valley.

      Hendrickson says their goal is to redevelop Castle “to really turn it into a site where we can focus some solid attention on manufacturing. We a want to be a place where things are made because when things are made people are working.”

    Back in October, Merced County’s Board of Supervisors developed an agreement with the Port of L.A. formalizing what Hendrickson calls a “hub and spokes” development. Merced will become a place of manufacturing and distribution, and use the nearby rail line and freeways to bring goods to L.A. to be shipped around the world. In kind, Castle may also become a place where the Port can send products for distribution.

    Merced County isn’t the only Valley county building ties with the Port of L.A. Kern County recently got approval to expand their Foreign Trade Zone at TejonRanch. They also will move the zone’s affiliation to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Port of L.A. The expansion means all of the industrial areas of Tejon Ranch are now within their foreign trade zone. Companies operating there will receive a break on import duties and fees. Tejon Ranch has announced the expansion will bring jobs to Kern County.

    Hendrickson says the same could happen in Merced, when it comes to job creation.

    “Using today’s workforce numbers, about one out of every nine jobs would be right here at Castle in about twenty years.”

    There is one drawback though. More shipping could mean more air pollution.

    Dean Florez is a member of the California Air Resources Board and a former state senator from Kern County.

    “The kinds of jobs and economic growth this brings are very large diesel trucks that are running a lot of things that make the air a lot worse,” says Florez. “You know, that balance is really important between jobs, growth, and air mitigation.”

    One issue is that companies send their trucks full of goods to a port, and then the truck typically returns to the distribution center, empty. If that truck is coming to Merced’s inland port, that could mean hundreds of miles driven just to return the truck.

    “Companies need to figure out how to send items to wherever, but that these cargo trucks not come back empty.”

    Florez says the Air Resources Board should come up with ways to incentivize companies to share their trucks, and reduce the total number on the road. He also says this is really an opportunity for outside groups to develop something like an Uber for trucks, where they share cargo going to the port and returning to the Valley.

    “I doubt it will be state government that comes up with that,” Florez says. “But I do think it will be some outside force that will come in and say, ‘This is the way, really trucks should be running in California, we have this sharing mechanism and it actually would work very, very well.’”

    Florez says he plans to bring this up with CARB later this year.

    In Merced County, Hendrickson says they plan to use trains to mitigate truck pollution.

    “We see our using our rail connectivity on-site to get trucks off the road, improve air quality, open up shipping opportunities for folks not only through Merced County and really throughout the entire San Joaquin Valley to places all over the world,” says Hendrickson.

    Finding the best shipping practices from an inland port will take time. And developing an inland port in the first place has been a long time coming.

    Mike Dozier is the former Community and Economic Development Director for the city of Clovis. He says that these sorts of deals don’t just happen overnight.

    “What happens is you have this vision, and it might be ten years before that vision starts to materialize,” says Dozier.

    Dozier says it takes time for infrastructure to develop, and to convince groups to believe in the project’s potential.

    “You know, you just build on it, you just have to have things ready for when the time is right.”

    For Merced County, officials hope that time is now.


    The Clovis restaurant scene is hopping: Openings, closings and other shake-ups


    March 01, 2018 12:15 PM


    Image via Clark Construction

    Published On February 27, 2018 – 12:30 PM
    Written By Gabriel Dillard

    Business owner and philanthropist Robert E. Smittcamp has given $10 million to benefit the neuroscience department at Community Medical Centers — representing the largest single cash gift for the Fresno-based health care system, according to hospital officials.

    The gift will be used toward recruiting “world class” neurosurgeons; education, training and retention efforts for department nurses and clinicians; new technological advancements and establishing the Central California Neuroscience Institute at Community Regional as a leader in neurological specialties, according to a statement from Katie Zenovich, Community Medical Centers vice president for corporate development and chief development officer.

    “We are so grateful to Bob,” Zenovich said. “His leadership in philanthropy will help us do much more to save and improve lives for decades to come.”

    Combined with a 2016 gift to Community Medical Centers, the Smittcamp Family Foundation has contributed more than $11 million to the neuroscience program.

    The first son of Earl and Muriel Smittcamp, founders of Wawona Frozen Foods, Robert — known around town as Bob — serves as chairman and CEO of food ingredient company Lyons Magnus.

    A message Tuesday morning seeking comment from Smittcamp was not returned.

    Community Medical Centers released the following statement from Smittcamp:

    “We are impressed with the ambitious vision and leadership of Community Medical Centers and their rapid growth over the last decade,” Smittcamp said. “However, additional growth and recruitment of world-class neurosurgeons is still required to ensure the success of this service line. I am hoping this new gift will accelerate the hospital’s plans in this critical service area that affects so many Valley families.”

    “I’ve become knowledgeable about Community Medical Centers over the past decade and concluded that it’s the charity where I can make the biggest difference, for the most people, for the greatest number of years,” Smittcamp added. “This is the Valley’s main hospital system, and I hope many others will join me in helping to grow its capabilities.”

    Community Regional Medical Center’s Downtown Fresno campus is the home of the Central California Neuroscience Institute.

    Top surfers to compete in May just south of … Fresno?

    Top surfers to compete in May just south of ... Fresno?
    The World Surf League announced this week it plans to hold one of its contests at Kelly Slater’s artificial wave pool in Lemoore. In this video frame grab, Slater is the first to ride his perfect wave created by a machine. (Kelly Slater Wave Company)


    In May, the greatest professional surfers from Australia to Brazil will come to battle it out in some of the most pristine waves in California — in the dusty croplands of Kings County.

    The World Surf League announced this week it plans to hold one of its contests at Kelly Slater’s artificial wave pool in Lemoore.

    Slater, the 11-time world champion considered the best of all time, spent 10 years working with a USC aerospace engineer to design a perfect wave, peeling 700 yards along a recontoured water ski lake. Videos of the wave, with hollow barrel sections and open faces to do aerials and cutbacks, have captivated the surfing world since the first one appeared in December 2015. But only a select few have been invited to see it, much less ride it.

    “A wave of that shape sits in the subconsciousness of every surfer in the world,” longtime Surfer magazine editor Steve Hawk told The Times in 2016. “That wave is exactly the fantasy wave I drew on the margins of my notebooks when I was in high school.”

     For the first time, the facility, the Surf Ranch, will be open to the public during the contest, according to a World Surf League news release. The two-day competition on May 5-6, the Founders’ Cup of Surfing, will have “a festival backdrop honoring the culture of surfing — food, music, beverage, art and special guests will all be on site for enjoyment.”

    In an unusual format, the wave-riders will not compete individually but in five-person teams (three men, two women) representing different parts of the world: Australia, the U.S., Europe and Brazil, and one team representing the best athletes from other surfing parts of the world, such as South Africa and Japan.

    Global teams of engineers and surfers are vying to build artificial wave pools that can produce high-quality waves that come in rapid enough succession to create an economically viable surf amusement park. An obstacle has been energy use and the length of time the water needs to settle after a wave rolls through before the next one can come.

    At a contest, this is less of an issue because of the small number of surfers in the water. And the bonus for contest organizers: the mood swings of nature are mostly out of the equation; no need to wait for distant storms to produce ocean swells. Barring mechanical failure, perfect waves will be coming on May 5.

    CSU Bakersfield students OK expanding Student Union and new aquatics center

    Feb., 27, 2018

    • Will triple the size of the student union building
    • Student fees to increase

    Students at California State University, Bakersfield have approved a referendum to more than triple the size of the Student Union and build an aquatics facility, according to Associated Students Inc. A total of 1,768 students voted on the referendum, with 1,086 (61.4 percent) voting “yes” and 682 students (38.6) voting “no.”

    “The fruition of the project will encourage student development, improve student life, provide exceptional services and advance the CSUB community,” says ASI President Mariela Gomez.

    The total expansion will be approximately 80,000 square feet – about 40,000 for the two-story Student Union expansion and 40,000 for the new Student Recreation Center Aquatics Facility. The current 17,000-square-foot student union was originally built in 1987 when the campus population was about 5,100. Since then, CSUB has grown to more 10,000 students.

    The $37 million project — $27 million for the Student Union and $10 million for the aquatics center – will be funded through a combination of sources, including student fees. Student fees for the Student Union expansion will increase by roughly $40 per semester in the first year and tier up to $160 per semester over a four-year period for the Student Union expansion.

    Fees for the SRC Aquatic Facility are roughly $20 per semester and will not tier. ASI leaders will meet soon with campus administrators to determine when the fee collection will begin. Students who currently receive financial aid will have all fees covered without any out-of-pocket expenses. CSUB anticipates that the Student Union expansion will need three years of fee collection before the construction process can begin.

    Planning for the construction of the SRC Aquatic Facility, which will be located in the current dirt lot on Kroll Way across the street from parking lot K2 and next to the SRC soccer field, will begin immediately, and the timeline for completion will be determined after construction begins. Approximately 80-100 jobs will be created by the projects.

    What’s up with all that construction? Here are 10 projects in the works

    February 12, 2018 07:30 AM

    Updated February 12, 2018 07:30 AM