Merced County kicks off $2.1M expansion on research and test site for autonomous vehicles

Construction kicked off this month on a planned $2.1 million expansion of an autonomous vehicle research and testing site at at Castle Commerce Center. The new expansion will allow vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and innovators to utilize test areas that mimic real-world highway, rural and urban landscapes, according to a Merced County news release.

County officials have touted Castle’s proximity to Silicon Valley and expansive open space as a boon for tech companies like Google that have used the facility to test self-driving vehicles for some years. “This site embodies the future of transportation, and these technology developments are taking place right in our backyards,” Merced County Supervisor Daron McDaniel, whose district encompasses Castle Commerce Center, said in the release. “This project represents real-time job growth and economic development, with enormous potential as it continues to grow.”

Formerly called the California AutoTech Testing and Development Center, the 225-acre site has been renamed to TRC California for Transportation Research Center Inc., for the Ohio-based corporation that assumed facility operations earlier this year. A long-term goal for county officials was to pass facility management to a private third party expert that would take operations to the cutting edge of the developing autonomous vehicle industry. TRC is a leader in automotive testing and innovation that has led the facility’s design improvements, according to the release. “We are building out TRC California to offer a comprehensive, one-stop shop where automotive technology and mobility innovators can test and affirm the performance, safety, quality and competitiveness of new technologies that are changing the face of transportation worldwide,” Brett Roubinek, president and CEO of TRC Inc., said in the release. “TRC is proud to partner with Merced County in this transformation.”

A 2 mile high-speed test track is the subject of the current construction phase by Central Valley-based Avision Construction. Installation of privacy fencing along the perimeter, vehicle barriers and security improvements for confidentiality purposes are also in progress. Work on this protect phase is anticipated to wrap up by Nov. 1. Central Valley-based Precision Civil Engineering is overseeing project engineering and construction management. “We are excited to begin this dramatic new chapter in Merced County’s progress as a focal point for testing and research by the West Coast’s technology-based industries, start-ups and independent innovators,” Mark Hendrickson, Merced County Director of Community and Economic Development, said in the release. “Advances developed here at TRC California will help make transportation safer, more efficient and more environmentally responsible.”

Construction will temporarily impact portions of the facility while other areas remain open for testing, the release said. Also being worked on is a control building and workshop, as well as installation of test equipment. The total project budget is $6.5 million being paid for via funding secured by Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, through the California State Transportation Agency. TRC California has already attracted a number of companies that are actively testing at the facility. Facilities and staffing will keep expanding, including the addition of more roadway complexes, road surfaces and intersections all designed for testing advanced transportation technologies, the release said.

New industrial building planned in north Modesto could employ hundreds of workers

A new development proposes a 300,000-square-foot industrial building that could employ hundreds of people on Kiernan Avenue north of Modesto. The building, designed for light industry, is planned for the southeast corner of Tully Road and Kiernan. It will replace an almond orchard on the 17-acre site. Jackrabbit Equipment Inc., which makes equipment for the tree nut industry, has been discussed as a main tenant for the Kiernan facility. The company would use the building for consolidating Jackrabbit’s operations in Ripon and on Dakota Avenue in Modesto. Chief Executive Officer Bob DeMont said Thursday that 90 employees would work at the new building initially, but the number could grow substantially as the company expands.

The Stanislaus County planning commission considered the project earlier this month and recommended that county supervisors approve it. The project is set for the Board of Supervisors meeting Aug. 17. According to a county staff report, Jackrabbit is expected to use half the facility, or 150,000 square feet. Libitzky Holdings of Emeryville, the applicant and developer, has not identified tenants for the other 150,000 square feet. “We would love to be able to accommodate Jackrabbit,” said Kevin Perkins, an associate principal for Libitzky, a real estate investment firm that owns properties in eight states. “We are building 300,000 square feet of Class A space that should be highly in demand,” Perkins said. “Modesto is in a real growth market and the location lends itself to being a prime industrial and distribution location for the state and western United States.”

Libitzky operates the Modesto Industrial Park, which is next door to the Kiernan and Tully property. The new cross-dock building could be built and completed by the second quarter of 2022, Perkins said. According to the plans, businesses leasing space could operate around the clock, seven days a week, three shifts per day, with up to 250 workers on each shift. That estimate includes other prospective operations in addition to Jackrabbit. County staff said Jackrabbit could occupy a larger portion or the entire building, but that has not been determined. The site is designed with 486 parking spaces; an excess amount of parking was included in the plans for flexibility as business tenants are sought.

Companies using the industrial building are expected to serve about 25 customers daily. The center will generate an estimated 1,488 truck and car trips per day. Libitzky applied to the county for approval because the site is in an unincorporated area outside the city limits. Modesto’s general plan designates the project location for business park development. For significant development projects inside a city’s sphere of influence, the county has a policy of first getting preliminary approval from the respective city. The county may approve the project after the city signs off.

Steve Mitchell, planning manager for Modesto, said the city has been in discussions with the county and supported the application because it’s an expansion of an industrial area. There are too many private properties between the city boundary and the Kiernan site for an annexation, he said. One of the city’s conditions for approval was extension of a line to the property and connection to city water service, but a sewer service connection is not available, Mitchell said. “We are working with the county on a tax-sharing agreement,” he added.

Intero Real Estate Services-East Bay Expanding to the Central Valley!

The Company is pleased to announce that their franchise is growing. A new office location will be opening in mid-August. This 3500-square-foot office space at 118 E. 11th Street, Tracy, CA 95376, is in the heart of Tracy. “I am truly honored to be part of such an amazing company under the leadership of Rishi Bakshi. I am looking forward to spearheading our Central Valley office in Tracy and being a part of this amazing opportunity for us all.”

Broker and General Manager, Rishi Bakshi says, “This new location will be our seventh office and we look forward to building a team there. In every market our agents serve, there is a community that will see a benefit from it. Tracy presents a great opportunity to be a difference maker not only in the real estate business but in the neighborhoods we service.” He also went on to announce that Sharmaine Capelli, current Broker and Assistant Manager of the Livermore Office, will be leading the new Tracy office as the Branch Manager. Ms. Capelli says, “I am truly honored to be part of such an amazing company under the leadership of Rishi Bakshi. I am looking forward to spearheading our Central Valley office in Tracy and being a part of this amazing opportunity for us all.”

Bank of America provides $385K to 9 Kern County nonprofits for workforce development

Bank of America today announced it has provided $385,000 in grants to nine Kern County nonprofits focusing on workforce development. The organizations receiving funding are: The Bakersfield College Foundation, Bakersfield Homeless Center, Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County, Cal State Bakersfield, Circle of Life, CityServe Network, Community Action Partnership of Kern, Garden Pathways and the Kern Economic Development Foundation.

The bank said the funding supports programs and services that help build pathways to employment, including providing education and resources to rebuild careers that may have been impacted by the pandemic. “The strategic investment into immediate short-term and longer-term needs has been key in helping disadvantaged communities progress as the economy safely reopens,” said Karen Zuber, market executive for Bank of America Bakersfield. “By investing in Kern County’s incredible network of nonprofits, Bank of America provides philanthropic capital to help advance economic and social progress, enabling our community to succeed.”

Several Kern County nonprofits are already using their funding for various projects. BofA said Garden Pathways is using its grant to provide seven at-risk youth with paid internships to develop on-the-job skills training and is supporting 48 high school students in the juvenile justice system by providing enrichment opportunities to help mitigate the effects of their trauma. Bank of America said CAPK is training 20 homeless people through their HireUp program, which provides training in job interview preparedness, computer skills and customer relations.

Assemblyman Salas secures $6 million for Bakersfield College health education programs

Bakersfield College has reason to celebrate this week after getting word that the local community college will receive an additional $6 million in state funding secured by Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield. According to twin news releases from BC and Salas’ office, the funding will help the college expand and implement workforce training programs related to nursing and health care.

The funding comes in addition to $44.4 million Salas secured this year for a range of Central Valley projects and educational investments, Salas’ office said. “I am happy to champion more money coming to Bakersfield College,” Salas stated in the releases. “This additional $6 million will help train more nurses and health professionals for the valley so that our local families will have greater health access and options.” The funding is authorized in Assembly Bill 132, the higher education budget bill, which was signed Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

According to BC’s release, the projects proposed will include expanding the college’s Rural Health Equity and Learning collaborative, the Certified Nursing Assistant and Registered Nurse programs, and the allied health programs such as the new Physical Therapy Assistant program, while also providing funding for new post-pandemic student health and wellness services, and new certification programs, such as the Mental Health Worker Certificate. Sonya Christian, Kern Community College District Chancellor and past president of Bakersfield College, lauded Salas for his continued support of BC and higher education. “Assemblymember Rudy Salas makes things happen and his work embodies keeping the #ValleyStrong,” Christian said in a statement.

The college has been able to scale up several programs thanks to some $22 million in funding Salas has secured for BC in recent years, Christian said. “His continued commitment to career education directly supports students in ways that matter to their futures, health and success,” she said. Bakersfield College will use the direct $6 million investment for the following programs:

• Expanding the Rural Health Equity and Learning collaborative.

• Expanding the certified nursing assistant and registered nurse programs.

• Providing nursing scholarships for students who volunteered to serve in vaccination clinics.

• Expanding the Allied Health Simulation Laboratory.

• Expanding the radiology technology mammography and sonography programs.

• Adding the Mental Health Worker Certificate.

• Adding postpandemic student health and wellness services.

• Providing educational services to prevent chronic illness among at-risk rural residents.

AB 132 also provides an unprecedented $47.1 billion statewide investment in college affordability and access including:

• $115 million for Zero-Textbook-Cost Degree grant programs and open educational resources at community colleges to help address the rising costs of textbooks.

• $100 million to create Basic Needs Centers to help homeless and food insecure students access resources and enroll in CalFresh.

• $100 million for community colleges to increase student retention rates and enrollment.

• $2 billion to address housing and space needs at the UC, CSU and community colleges.

• Provides $20 million for CCCs to establish and expand High Road Training Partnerships and Construction Careers workforce development programs.

• Provides $6,000 per student in non-tuition support for Cal Grant students who are former foster youth.

• Expands the California Kids Investment and Development Savings Program to provide $500 base deposits to college savings accounts for public school students from low-income families, English learners and foster youth.

• Establishes the Learning-Aligned Employment program to help underrepresented students with financial need gain relevant work experience, promoting long-term employment opportunities.

• Establishes the Golden State Education and Training Grant Program to provide grants for education or high-quality training for workers displaced by the pandemic.

• Authorizes community colleges to use federal emergency relief funds to waive student fees for students who have unpaid fees due to impacts of COVID-19.

Mister Car Wash expands presence in California’s Central Valley

Mister Car Wash Inc. is expanding its presence California, United States, with the addition of two new Central Valley locations in Turlock and Riverbank, announce the company.

The Turlock location opened earlier this week, and the Riverbank location is scheduled to open in August. Mister has 39 locations throughout the Golden State.”We’ve seen tremendous growth in California since first entering the state in 2017,” said Ryan Darby, vice president of development and construction at Mister Car Wash. “These two new locations expand our footprint in the Central Valley and complement the existing network of stores throughout the region giving our customers and members even more options to keep their cars shining.”

Headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, and with over 25 years of car wash experience, Mister Car Wash, Inc. operates over 340 car washes nationwide and has the largest car wash subscription program in North America.

Aviation company establishes presence in Buttonwillow Airport

Kern County and the company American Aerospace Technologies have signed a letter of intent to create a Regional Operations Center at the Buttonwillow Airport, which would bring new unmanned aircraft to the airport. The letter stipulates the environmental and state requirements that the company must comply with to begin construction. “We’re super excited that they believe that the airport can serve their needs,” said Mark Witsoe, director of Kern County’s airports.

The Buttonwillow Airport has little use to many residents; operationally, flight trainers mainly employ the airport to practice taking off and landing planes, Witsoe said. The structure’s sparse nature means AAT will create a new facility to house its technology, he added. “Our goal is to establish a permanent presence in California with this as our hub,” said David Yoel, the CEO of American Aviation Technology. He hopes to finalize negotiations and start construction in the next six months.

Kern County serves as a perfect base for the company because of its central location, Yoel said. Furthermore, the county has a wide range of applications the aircraft can serve, he added. Yoel said his unmanned aircraft systems cannot be mistaken for drones. While a traditional drone can operate for 20 minutes and must fly below 400 feet, the UAS can fly for 15 hours and at altitudes up to 15,000 feet, Yoel said. Moreover, the UAS is environmentally friendly and can burn less fuel when compared to some smaller drones, he said. “It creates a fundamentally different kind of capability that doesn’t currently exist in civilian applications,” Yoel said.

The company desires to partner with the local companies to uphold its mission statement: maintain health, safety and compliance. The technology can assist oil and gas production, agriculture and fire departments, Yoel said. UAS sends back imagery in real time to stave off any threats, he added. Unmanned aircraft can fly into areas not easily accessible by a person. Therefore, the technology spots potential gas leaks, fire outbreaks and helps growers understand their land, Yoel said.

AAT foresees bringing smaller versions of its larger aircraft to Buttonwillow. This technology weighs 220 pounds and has an 18-foot wingspan. Smaller UAS also includes integrated artificial intelligence that can detect threats to power and pipe lines, often spanning hundreds of miles. Furthermore, the compact equipment can access areas along power lines that are dangerous or inaccessible by an individual, Yoel said. The potential Buttonwillow Regional Operations Center is the second such creation by the company within the nation. Another center is located in New Jersey. AAT worked on a project with NASA at the Buttonwillow airport, which sprouted the idea to create a Kern County center, Yoel said. Witsoe said Kern County airports have never housed unmanned equipment that can be used by civilians. “David Yoel and the company, AAT, seems to be a great new entity to move out here to Kern County,” Witsoe said. “I’m really hopeful we can put something together that lasts a long time.”

Hardware distribution company to hire 400 in Visalia

The “helpful hardware folks” say Visalia is the place for Ace … to build their distribution center. Illinois-based Ace Hardware, with its popular jingle “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks,” will open a 1 million square foot distribution center in Visalia in the next year. Developer Seefried Industries filed for a permit to build the complex on Aug. 6. The permit names Ace Hardware as the tenant. The permit is valued at $90 million with the contractor listed as Clayco who has built other projects for Seefried including the Amazon warehouse in Fresno.

Seefried had previously presented a detailed site-plan for the 81-acre property it is buying at Plaza Drive and Ferguson Avenue in the Visalia Industrial Park which stated the tenant would hire 400 employees working in two to three shifts. Seefried Western Manager Sean Sheppard confirmed the deal this week saying he hoped the warehouse would be open by October of next year. The news is further evidence the logistics industry has selected Visalia as one of the best places to reach California markets within a day’s drive, delivering goods overnight directly to customers in Southern California and the Bay Area.

This would be the 18th Ace distribution center in the U.S. with one in Sacramento. The new Visalia center will serve hundreds of Ace Hardware stores, including three in Tulare County. The company continues to expand with 11 new locations in California this year. The private company is a cooperative with an ownership stake by each local store. There are nearly 5,500 stories in the U.S. Visalia has a large store across from the Visalia Mall, Nelson’s Ace Hardware, in the former Orchard Supply Hardware. Other local Ace cooperatives include Exeter Mercantile Co., Dinuba Lumber Co. and Wiesenberger’s Ace Hardware in Porterville.

Phoenix-based Seefried’s operational statement filed in June, described a 1,033,180 square foot warehouse and distribution facility (+/-1,002,980 square feet of warehouse and +/-30,200 square feet of office) to be constructed on a 81.35 acre parcel located at the southwest corner of north Plaza Drive and west Ferguson Avenue. The parcel is the largest remaining open-space piece in the heart of the industrial park, formerly known as the Jacuzzi property. It has frontage on both Plaza and Goshen Avenue.

The square footage description filed in June exactly matches the permit request filed recently for Ace Hardware. While there has been no announcement (Amazon was quiet for many months), Ace will likely lease the new warehouse from the developer, as they have elsewhere.


The site can accommodate a future expansion of 356,160 square feet, which is not being contemplated for now, but would bring the total size of the facility to 1.4 million square feet. The design of the site provides 752 auto parking stalls (15 accessible per code) and 304 trailer stalls. The facility will be constructed to a height of 55 feet above current grade to accommodate a minimum clear height within the facility of 40 feet, and parapets around the perimeter to screen mechanical equipment on the roof. The facility will be fully conditioned with an Early Suppression, Fast Response (ESFR) fire sprinkler system and code required fire alarm system. Access will be provided through driveways off Plaza Drive, Fergusson Avenue and a private access road just south of the facility. Trucks will utilize Ferguson primarily and employees will utilize Plaza. There will be a main point of access to the facility off Plaza through the office area, with code required fire access around the perimeter.


The statement continues that this “facility will operate 24 hours, 7 days a week utilizing +/-400 employees in two (2) shifts (8:00 am-5:00 pm- DAY and 6:00 pm-4:00 am- NIGHTS). It is estimated that 280 employees will operate during the day shift, and 120 employees during the night shift.”

Ace Hardware successfully competes with rival big box hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s reporting record fourth quarter revenues of $2.1 billion – an increase of 39.2 percent from last year and record fourth quarter net income of $43.1 million, an increase of $39.6 million from last year. Ace’s same store sales were up 28.7 percent during the quarter and 25.9 percent for the year. An Ace company report describes how US customers recently funneled a “disproportionate share of their discretionary spending into their homes and gardens” as the possible reason for the increase.

Founded in 1924 as “Ace Stores,” the company changed its name to “Ace Hardware Corporation” in 1931. After the retirement of longtime president and founder Richard Hesse in 1973, Ace was sold to its retailers, becoming a retailer-owned cooperative. It first reached $1 billion in wholesale sales in 1985 and $5 billion in 2015. The hardware store advertises itself as a neighborhood store featuring employees who, in contrast to big box help, offer caring assistance on do-it-yourself projects. A few years ago they changed their popular jingle from “Helpful hardware men” to “ hardware folks.”

Landing the large retailer is another huge catch for the Visalia Industrial Park which has recently seen the opening of the new UPS hub and the 1.2 million square foot Amazon fulfillment center to open this fall next door. And there is more to come. Work is expected to begin next month on another million square foot-plus, tilt-up building to the north of Amazon. With the addition of this $90 million permit, the city will have permitted over $100 million in new commercial projects in 2021 so far – on pace to exceed last year’s total of $182 million and 2.4 million square feet.


Faraday Future (“FF”), a California-based global shared intelligent mobility ecosystem company, announced that its shares were listed on the NASDAQ Stock Market today. The listed company was renamed “Faraday Future Intelligent Electric Inc.”, with its Class A common stock and warrants trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the ticker symbols “FFIE” and “FFIEW”, respectively. The “I” stands for Intelligent and Internet, and “E” stands for Ecosystem and Electric. This reflects the fact that FF is not just an EV company, but also an internet and technology company, an AI product company, a software company and a user ecosystem company.

“Today is a new chapter in FF’s history, marking the culmination of a noble vision and mission created seven years ago in California by our founder YT Jia. This is also the common mission of our global partners, who are also known as the Futurist Alliance,” said Dr. Carsten Breitfeld, Faraday Future’s Global CEO. “We would like to thank all investors, partners and internal and external partners for their trust and confidence in our leadership, product technology and business model, and we are confident in the high-quality delivery of our FF 91 Futurist in the next 12 months.”
FF also announced the brand-new reservation policy for its FF 91 Futurist. The first announced FF 91 Futurist Alliance Edition will be limited to 300 units globally, with a priority reservation deposit of $5,000. This initial group of FF 91 owners will all receive three user privileges: Futurist Alliance membership, Spire Club membership, and the next generation product upgrade privileges. FF has also launched the FF 91 Futurist Edition for a priority reservation deposit of $1,500.
As FF Founder and Chief Product and User Ecosystem Officer, YT Jia led the FF team to define and develop the ultimate intelligent techluxury FF 91 five years ago, who is now focusing on pushing the product power improvement, and user ecosystem establishment. The FF 91 Futurist Alliance Edition and FF 91 Futurist models represent the next generation intelligent internet EV product with unbeatable product power. They are not just high-performance EVs, all-ability cars, and ultimate robotic vehicles, but also the third internet living space, and are equipped with unique technology, an ultimate user experience and complete ecosystem. FF 91 Futurist has an industry-leading 1050 hp, 130kWh battery pack with immersive liquid cooling technology, capable of 0-60mph in 2.4 seconds, tri-motor torque vectoring, and rear wheels independently driven and controlled by dual rear motors. FF 91 is also equipped with the industry‘s only super AP for internet connection at “light speed”, video streaming on PID, rear intelligent internet system, in-car video conferencing system, Intelligent Seamless Entry, FFID face recognition, multi touch eyes-free control, and zero gravity rear-seats with the industry’s largest reclining angle of 150 degrees.
With the FF Intelligent App, users will be able to configure and reserve an FF 91, create an FFID, book exclusive test rides, and even book a tour of FF’s global headquarters in Los Angeles. The FF Intelligent APP is not only an FF 91 reservation platform and social community where all Futurists connect and communicate, but also the most important platform for the value co-creation and sharing of our FF user ecosystem. Users can learn more about our products and interact with the technology that sets FF apart from others in the EV space. Along with the social community aspects where users and fans can share thoughts and ideas together, users will also have an opportunity to sign up for a unique Futurist Product Officer (FPO) program and even interact with FF executives and employees to share ideas.

Solar-powered plane aims to break world record from Fresno Chandler Executive Airport

Taking off from the Fresno Chandler Executive Airport around 6:20 a.m. Wednesday, a production electric aircraft powered by off-grid renewable energy is about to make history. “We’re proving out today, the value of the infrastructure that’s being developed for electric cars has a potential to also electrify aviation, which electric aircraft are here and are coming very rapidly.  More and more are coming into the marketplace,” said Joseph Oldham, Founder, and CEO of New Vision Aviation.

Odham is piloting the solar-powered plane, a Central Valley native, who knows first hand why utilizing these types of aircraft is a step in the right direction — especially in the Valley. “So electric aircraft are feasible today and offer that opportunity to both reduce carbon emissions and also criteria pollutants like naaqs and PM10 or PM2.5 which are a problem for us in our air quality in the San Joaquin Valley on a day to day basis,” said Oldham.

Beam Global specializes in electric vehicles and makes it possible for the plane to fly for about an hour at a time before recharging.  The CEO is proud his company is leading the way for environmentally-friendly aviation. “It’s absolutely groundbreaking.  I mean, first of all, our ability to deploy charging infrastructure in an airport like this without construction, without electric work, that’s an absolute first and then, of course, aviation is a terrible polluter as it stands today,” said Desmond Wheatley, the CEO of Beam Global.

The Pipistrel model aircraft will be stopping to recharge in Madera, Merced, Modesto, and Lodi before touching down and breaking the world record around 10:05 a.m. Thursday at the Sacramento Executive Airport.