The economic whiplash of the nearly two years of a global health crisis has exposed a well-reported labor shortage, supply chain issues and inflation. In Tulare County, industrial growth is keeping things steady. Tulare County Economic Development Corporation CEO Nathan Ahle says the spotlight is on the Visalia Industrial Park. Tulare County continues to see much industrial growth, including the recently opened Amazon warehouse and an Ace Hardware logistics facility, which was announced recently. Ace Hardware is 1 million square feet and is set to provide 400 jobs.

The industrial park is master planned to serve many years of growth, Ahle said. Interest in the area continues to gain traction. “Land is going quickly and projects are getting built and spec buildings are being built, or they’re being built to suit. And we’re seeing a lot of demand in that area for sure,” Ahle said. The City of Porterville is also poised for growth, he said. It shows promise, especially because it’s had one of the most heavily trafficked Walmart distribution centers in the country for decades. “Cities that may not be on the 99 but certainly have that potential would be right there in Porterville,” Ahle said.

The City of Tulare will also see significant development over the next three to five years surrounding the International Agri-Center. There will be a new interchange off of Highway 99.



Car parts retailer AutoZone is the latest company to secure a distribution home in the Central Valley. The Tennessee-based company with more than 6,000 stores in the U.S. — 640 in California — announced Thursday afternoon its plans to build a $150 million distribution center in the Madera County town of Chowchilla. Construction would begin this coming summer with a targeted opening in 2024.

The distribution center would create at least 280 news jobs, according to an Auto Zone news release. It would occupy in phases 750,000 square feet of warehouse space in the Chowchilla Industrial Park with close access to Highway 99. Referred to as “Project Sunset” by city planners, the distribution center has been about a year and a half in the making, said Bobby Kahn, executive director of the Madera County Economic Development Commission.

The Auto Zone announcement was actually first made at the State of the County Luncheon in Madera hosted by the EDC Thursday afternoon. “There’s no better way to close an economic development event than with a major project announcement,” Kahn said. “The timing was remarkable.”


City of Wasco to benefit from latest California high-speed rail grant

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded a $24 million grant to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) which will be used to advance the nation’s first high-speed rail system while enhancing and better connecting the community of Wasco (Kern County).

Authority CEO, Brian Kelly, said: “High-speed rail is about connecting Californians and our diverse communities. As we build this transformative system, we continue to work and collaborate with communities throughout the state to create jobs, spur economic development, and improve quality of life.”

The RAISE grant stands for Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, which the work enabled by this funding exemplifies. The Authority will use the $24 million for crucial safety, efficiency, and construction projects in and around Wasco, including:

  • Lowering State Route 46 to properly accommodate trucks passing under the railroad, which carries both passenger and freight trains, preventing polluting and heavy-duty trucks from using smaller neighborhood streets
  • Better and safer multimodal connectivity across the freight corridor with a new sidewalk, an enhanced State Route 46, and an efficient roundabout
  • Enhancing adjacent properties affected by the project and working with the City to prepare them for improved land use and economic development.

“The City of Wasco is very pleased with the announcement,” said City Manager, Scott Hurlbert. “It’s a great example of multi-agency teamwork and recognition of significant local needs. This funding will resolve a tremendous financial burden for the City and help us move our community forward with confidence.”

Taken together, this grant will help to bring improvement, safety, environmental justice, and economic development to a historically disadvantaged community. In the north and south of Wasco, the Authority has 119 miles under construction with 35 active construction sites in the Central Valley. To date, more than 6,000 construction jobs have been created since the start of construction.

Bitwise Industries’ apprenticeship program receives national recognition

Two months into her apprenticeship with Bitwise Industries, Emelia Guaderrama already has her sights set on continuing her career with the company. Guadarrama says, “I was doing this just to kind of dip my toes in coding, learn how to make a website and just to see if I would like it. I fell in love with it.” The Fresno native says prior to Bitwise launching in Fresno, entering the tech industry didn’t seem like a possibility. “Having that in our Community and Fresno. Not only that, but them wanting to bring in the community and be like, ‘You belong here. We will help you.’ You feel like you belong in this industry,” Guaderrama said.

The now nationally registered apprenticeship program boasts opportunities to work on real projects under the supervision of seasoned tech leads while getting paid. Most importantly, it brings a sense of community to those looking to get into the field. It’s something she was able to discuss while in Washington DC as they made it official. Emilia says, “There are so many people out there who are just ready and willing to help you. It’s wonderful. I love it, it’s such a fostering environment.” In 2021, the US Department of Labor passed $3.5 billion in funding for apprenticeship programs across the country.


Fresno State to lead dairy innovation project with $1.8M USDA grant

The push to develop new products in the nation’s leading dairy state is also the impetus behind a new, three-year $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service aimed at dairy business innovation. Graduate student Daniel Olmos is channeling his love of science and food to integrate two of his favorite campus farm products into his graduate research project.

Working with food science and nutrition faculty Dr. Carmen Licon Cano, the Fresno-native Olmos is creating a new, wine-infused cheese product that he hopes to produce at the campus creamery for the Gibson Farm Market, and later potentially on a larger scale. “When you try to produce cheese and wine, there is a fair bit of chemistry and microbiology to consider,” Olmos said. “An infused cheese like this is an artisanal product that you might see produced in Spain or other parts of the world, so it’s exciting to consider its potential here. Dairy products are exciting to work with since they’re very functional, nutritious and delicious.”

Licon will work with Dr. Susan Pheasant, director of the Institute for Food and Agriculture at Fresno State, to coordinate a program that will position students, faculty, staff and campus facilities to support industry partners in California, Oregon and Washington to launch a newly-created Pacific Coast Coalition for dairy processors.


Former Castle Air Force Base now used to test self-driving cars

The future of self-driving cars is becoming a reality in the North Valley. The former Castle Air Force Base is now a world-class testing facility for autonomous vehicles. The TRC California complex finished its $2.1 million expansion project in early August.

Since then, the testing field has attracted interest from the automotive industry. Manufacturers, suppliers, and innovators can use the 2.2-mile oval track to test drive their concepts and their vehicles. This is just the first phase for the facility. They will continue to focus on expanding testing capabilities for self-driving technology.


Environmental group and Tejon Ranch agree on plan to build 19,300 zero-emission homes

One of Southern California’s longest running development battles ended after two decades Wednesday when an environmental group agreed to the construction of a massive “net-zero” greenhouse gas community of 19,300 homes just off Interstate 5 on the southern flanks of the Tehachapi Mountains. The pact between the Tejon Ranch Co. and the nonprofit Climate Resolve comes amid a severe housing crunch across California and removes perhaps the largest roadblock remaining for the 6,700-acre Centennial project bordering Kern County, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. The project had been stalled repeatedly by environmental and economic challenges, even as other large developments won approval in one of the last undeveloped sections of Los Angeles County. The proposal had won final certification two years ago from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, and the company declared that it had been vindicated. But earlier this year, Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff rejected the county’s approval of the developer’s environmental impact report, effectively blocking construction.

Specifically, the judge cited aspects of the environmental review concerning wildfire risk and additional greenhouse gases generated by vehicles. Under terms of the deal expected to be presented to Beckloff later Wednesday, Climate Resolve has agreed to dismiss its legal claim that L.A. County violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved Centennial in 2019. The new development, which will not include natural gas hookups, would be designed specifically to combat global warming, the parties said. The agreement calls for the installation of nearly 30,000 electric vehicle chargers at residences and commercial businesses. In addition, the plan will include other incentives to support the purchase of 10,500 electric vehicles, school buses and trucks.