Local manufacturer creating braces for Las Vegas Raiders

When the Las Vegas Raiders take the field this season, they’ll bring a little piece of Bakersfield with them — beyond starting quarterback and Bakersfield Christian alum Derek Carr, that is.

The local medical equipment manufacturer Townsend Design faces stiff competition in supplying its knee and elbow braces and carbon-fiber footplate to professional sports teams. This season, however, the 38-year-old company, owned by French firm Thuasne, will supply the Raiders with specialized bracing for their offensive and defensive lines. The teamwide deal is the first of its kind for the company, said Brian Franklin, its vice president of national accounts. “We’re kind of looked at as a custom shop, or a custom fabrication manufacturer,” Franklin said. “And it’s not just putting an off-the-shelf, or a standard-sizing brace, on one of their million-dollar athletes.” The Raiders relationship was previously nurtured by Townsend’s San Jose-based former Director of Sports Bracing Steve Bartlinski back when the team was in Oakland.

When Townsend was founded in 1984, it didn’t take long to get its equipment on some of the most prominent athletes of the era. The company touts Troy Aikman, John Elway, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice, plus a few key players outside football, like Shaquille O’Neal, among its clients. But over the years, Bartlinski said, Townsend became better known for orthotics and prosthetics beyond the sports world. “There was a little bit of a lull where we didn’t really have a relationship,” Franklin added, “maybe with the newer orthopedic surgeons that were taking kind of the helm as team docs, and some of the newer training staffs that were coming into a lot of the teams.”

Bartlinski was introduced to the product in 2008 as the head athletic trainer at Stanford. He complained to an orthotist friend about how the supposedly “custom-fit” braces he was ordering from other companies never actually fit his athletes, and the friend recommended he give Townsend a shot. “They were super durable … and mechanically, they stayed in place,” Bartlinski said, “the hinge worked similar to what the knee does, and it just made it a really common-sense approach.” He later joined the company in 2017 in a newly created sports bracing role and immediately started drawing on his connections from the training world, using his medical knowledge to help explain the science behind the braces. (Essentially, they use a three-dimensional scan of an extremity to build the brace, which centers on the hinge secured by a non-elastic strap.)

Bartlinski built from the ground up, focusing on junior colleges that might not typically receive preferential treatment from brace manufacturers, with an emphasis on price transparency. At Stanford, he said, a company would offer him 30 braces for free, but then they’d turn around and go to City College of San Francisco and gouge them. “My goal was to basically formulate a program that would be conducive to any budget within the athletic training, sports medicine world,” Bartlinski said. “We provided systematic discounts across the board for schools, whether it be a high school, a junior college like Bakersfield College or the Las Vegas Raiders.” Townsend has strengthened its relationships in recent years, Franklin said, thanks to extensive networking that includes appearances at an alphabet soup of conferences and conventions: the AAOS (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons), NATA (National Athletic Trainers’ Association), PFATS (Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society) and more.

Bartlinski left Thuasne in 2020 and now leads sports medicine at San Jose State, where the Spartans wear Townsend braces. “I have nothing but fond memories of my time there,” he said, “but I also have nothing but great fond memories and appreciation for the science that was put into creating these braces back in the 80s.”


Chowchilla leaders herald new $150M AutoZone distribution center, will create 300 jobs

Valley leaders say an empty dirt lot on Highway 99 in Chowchilla will soon be an important center of economic growth for the city, as well as the Madera-Merced County region. Those officials teamed with AutoZone representatives Friday morning to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the new $150 million distribution center that will be built in Chowchilla. Chowchilla City Administrator Rod Pruett called it the biggest project to come to the city in decades. The 560,000 square foot facility will serve close to 300 AutoZone stores in Northern California, Oregon and Nevada. There are more than 6,000 AutoZone stores located in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to the company’s website.

The project is expected to create close to 300 full-time jobs. The site of the distribution center will be along Chowchilla Boulevard, near Highway 99. “This is a huge day,” Pruett said. “This is the biggest project that’s come to Chowchilla in decades. It brings close to 300 jobs to our community which is a huge deal for us. It’s been over two years in the making.” “These are careers, not just jobs,” Pruett added. “High school kids can stay here in the community. They don’t have to leave. It keeps families intact here. It brings even more to our community as well.” AutoZone officials chose Chowchilla over several sites they were considering. “We were looking for somewhere to expand our presence in Northern California and we looked all over this region,” said Bill Rhodes, who is the AutoZone President and CEO.

Rhodes said he and other AutoZone representatives were impressed with the commitment of the Chowchilla city leaders drive to economic development in their community. “It’s going to take a couple years for us to build the facility,” Rhodes said. “We’ll put $150 million or more into the building. It’ll be 560,000 square feet, housing at least 300 Auto Zoners (employees) and it’ll probably grow pretty extensively beyond that as the years go. We’ll be servicing at least 300 stores and probably get to 500 or 600 stores over time. We’ll have a big fleet of tractor trailers that are coming in and out of here every single day.” Officials say they expect the facility to open near the end of 2023. “It stands for an opportunity (for) growth in a small community,” said Chowchilla Mayor John Chavez. “It stands for sustainable jobs where we reside. It stands for a solid future of development in our industrial area. It stands for a huge milestone for Chowchilla. This is probably the biggest thing to happen in Chowchilla since I’ve been here.”


Coalition involving UC Merced awarded $65 million in Build Back Better Funds

The White House announced today (Sept. 2) a $65.1 million award — the largest federal grant ever awarded to the Central Valley — to the Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation (F3) Coalition as part of its “Build Back Better” initiative to boost economic recovery after the pandemic. The funding will help launch a state-of-the-art agricultural technology hub that will serve and connect farmers across the San Joaquin Valley to industry and spark a new, more advanced era in agriculture-based technology in an effort to boost productivity, create jobs and build capacity for regional sustainability.

Composed of scholars and researchers from UC Merced and Fresno State, farmers, agricultural organizations, community colleges and manufacturers, the F3 coalition is one of 21 regional groups selected to receive grants from the federal government’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The coalition’s proposal received the largest pool of funding from the challenge and was among 60 finalists nationwide. In total, the challenge garnered 530 applicants.

The new technology center, dubbed iCREATE, will serve communities across Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. Ashley Swearengin, president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF) — the lead agency and coordinator of the grant — describes it as a place that will “bring together the University of California research arm with the engineering capabilities of our state schools, alongside industry and community, all under one roof at a dedicated facility.” “We are thrilled that the Biden administration has recognized the unique potential of our Valley in awarding this grant to the Central Valley Community Foundation,” said UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “UC Merced looks forward to working with all our partners shoulder to shoulder to advance this effort and make the San Joaquin corridor the foremost global destination for innovation in the future of food.”

Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Marjorie Zatz called today’s announcement a signature moment for economic development in Central California. “Linking higher education, from the UC and CSU, through our community college partners, to build next generation technologies and train the workforce of the future will continue to build the massive economic impact our faculty and researchers are already having on this region.”

UC Merced professor Joshua Viers, also the director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, a key research partner of the effort, has been working with the CVCF since the visioning and scoping period of the F3 coalition began back in 2019. As associate dean for research in the School of Engineering, he will be launching iCREATE as its first center director to spur collaboration among the project participants and helping to integrate workforce development at local community colleges and local food producer activity supported by University of California Cooperative Extension offices. “The Build Back Better funding of F3 will not only accelerate research and development solutions for climate smart food systems that benefit local communities in the Valley, but also transform how we produce and process food in the future,” Viers said. “We will continue to lead the nation in producing food but will lead the planet in how to do it in a more technologically advanced and sustainable manner.”


Hydrostor Announces Key Milestones for its 500 MW Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage System in Southern California

Toronto, Canada – July 19, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – Hydrostor Inc. (“Hydrostor”), a leading long-duration energy storage solution provider, announced today that the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) determined that Hydrostor’s Application for Certification for its 500 MW/4,000 MWh Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (“A-CAES”) project in Kern County, California is Data Adequate.  This milestone will officially initiate the robust public environmental review process for the project. The Willow Rock Energy Storage Center (“Willow Rock” and formally called the Gem Energy Storage Center) will be located north of the Los Angeles Basin near the community of Rosamond. 

Also, earlier this year, Hydrostor received confirmation that the California Independent system Operator (“CAISO”) allocated the full 500 MW of resource deliverability for Willow rock. This enabled Hydrostor to continue ongoing constructive offtake negotiations with various counter parties, with the vast majority of project capacity now shortlisted or in exclusive negotiations. A-CAES is a breakthrough for long-duration energy storage, using commercially proven equipment and processes to provide affordable, large-scale, and emission-free long-duration energy storage. A-CAES operates similar to pumped hydro power, with the key difference being that it utilizes up to 10x less land and 20x less water, with less siting constraints when compared to equivalent sized systems.

Willow Rock will employ a peak construction workforce of 800 skilled workers totaling 2 million total work hours. The project will be a significant contributor to the local economy, providing over $500 million of regional direct and indirect economic impacts over its 50+ year life. Willow Rock will also be the largest stand-alone energy storage project in California. “Long duration energy storage (“LDES”) technologies are making significant contributions to ensure the reliability of California’s electric grid. It is imperative that California create strong investment signals and devise regulatory frameworks for innovative technologies like LDES to continue to expand clean energy markets and move us toward a net-zero future.” said Julia Souder, Executive Director, Long Duration Energy Storage Council. “Kern EDC is very excited to hear that Hydrostor has met this important milestone.  Long duration energy storage is a perfect fit for Kern County as our region has led the way in the development of renewable energy in California”, said Richard Chapman, President & CEO of the Kern Economic Development Corporation.

Curtis VanWalleghem, Hydrostor’s Chief Executive Officer said, “Hydrostor is thrilled that one of its first large-scale commercial projects will be in California – a state that is long known for its entrepreneurial innovations and commitment to leading the clean energy future.” The CEC will be commencing stakeholder meetings in the Rosamond community next month.


State senate passes Gaming Compact Agreement for Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tejon

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KERO) — The California State Senate passed the Gaming Compact Agreement for the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tejon on Wednesday night in Sacramento.

The hotel and casino, which will be built just south of Bakersfield, are expected to bring 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, adding over $60 million in payroll every year, as well as making the area a tourism hub for the region. The project is expected to create 400 guest rooms, several restaurants, and entertainment venue, and a convention center. The land on which the resort will sit will become the Tejon Indian Tribe’s first reservation. The Tejon Indian Tribe says 52 acres of the site will be devoted to the resort hotel and casino, while 22 adjacent acres will be designated for an RV park. The remainder of the property will be used for other tribal purposes including administrative offices, a health facility, housing and supporting infrastructure.

The tribe, in partnership with Kern County and Hard Rock International, will also build a joint substation for the Kern County Fire Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office next to the hotel in order to ensure the safety of residents and visitors in the area. No taxpayer money will be used to operate the hotel or any supporting infrastructure. Governor Gavin Newsom signed off on the Gaming Compact Agreement on June 14, 2022, paving the way for the approval of the state senate.


Plans advance for Mojave Inland Port, first of its kind in California

MOJAVE, Calif. — Kern County, Calif., supervisors have approved a proclamation in support of the Mojave Inland Port, a planned 410-acre facility intended to receive and distribute up to 3 million containers per year from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. “The Mojave Inland Port is a fully permitted industrial site that will provide a solution for California goods movement at the ports,” Lorelei Oviatt, Kern County director of planning, said in a press release from holding company Pioneer Partners, which is spearheading the project. “This one-of-a-kind project will help unsnarl the congestion in the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach; it will help the national economy by reducing pressure on the supply chain; it will help the local economy through job creation,” said Pioneer Partners Chairman Richard Kellogg. “Goods will get to businesses and consumers faster and more efficiently. We can’t wait to get started.”

Plans call for groundbreaking in 2023 with the facility beginning operation in 2024. Pioneer Partners says it will work with Kern County officials to secure the necessary building permits. Developer Greenbriar Capital says in a press release that the project will the California’s first inland dry-land port and the largest in the U.S. and could support as many as 3,000 new jobs while generating an annual economic impact exceeding $500 million. “Inland ports are a critical component to the future balance of our supply chain. They can provide flexibility and efficiency, all while relieving traffic congestion at critical choke points,” said Trelynd Bradley, an official at the California Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development. “We appreciate the work that Pioneer’s Mojave Inland Port proposal has done to help find new solutions to address our supply chain challenges.”

The site is about 90 miles from the San Pedro Bay location of the two ports. Containers will arrive at the site astride Union Pacific’s main line via shuttle trains and can be distributed via state highways 15 and 58. There is also a 12,500-foot, heavy-lift runaway at the adjacent to the Mojave Air & Space Port.



CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Sealed Air (NYSE: SEE) has invested $9 million in a solar farm that is now powering its Madera, California manufacturing facility. The solar panels, which sit on 11 acres of company-owned land adjacent to the facility, are expected to help reduce energy spend at this site by $1 million annually. The 265,000 square foot plant, which manufactures BUBBLE WRAP® brand original cushioning, SEALED AIR® brand Korrvu® retention and suspension packaging, mailers, and other solutions, will have 98% of its electricity powered by the solar field. “The installation of these solar panels contributes to SEE’s overarching sustainability strategy and advances our transition to net-zero carbon emissions in our operations by 2040. Through these solar panels, we are advancing our use of renewable energy, lessening the energy intensity of operations and reducing the company’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Emile Chammas, SEE’s Chief Operating Officer. “We are on a journey to leave our world better than we find it and the completion of this project is an important milestone in the strategic investments we’re making to achieve that goal.”

SEE partnered with TotalEnergies (which recently acquired SunPower Commercial and Industrial Solutions) to design and install the 3.5-megawatt ground mount solar project, which includes 8,975 solar panels, along with a 770 kW/3,080 kilowatt-hour battery storage system. “TotalEnergies is proud to be SEE’s energy transformation partner as they invest to achieve ambitious sustainability targets,” said Eric Potts, vice president of TotalEnergies Distributed Generation USA. “Renewable energy is a business priority for both of our companies, so we are thrilled that this project will deliver long-term benefits to SEE’s Madera facility while advancing global progress toward carbon neutrality.”

Over the course of the first year, the solar project will help avoid 4,982 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 72,172 metric tons of carbon dioxide over 15 years, which is equivalent to:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from more than 15,000 passenger vehicles driven for one year
  • The carbon dioxide emission from annual electricity use for more than 14,000 homes
  • Carbon sequestered by nearly 1,200,000 tree seedlings grown over the course of a decade


About SEE

Sealed Air (NYSE: SEE) is in business to protect, solve critical packaging challenges, and make our world better than we find it. Our automated packaging solutions promote a safer, more resilient, and less wasteful global food supply chain, enable e-commerce, and protect goods transported worldwide. Our globally recognized brands include CRYOVAC® brand food packaging, SEALED AIR® brand protective packaging, AUTOBAG® brand automated systems, BUBBLE WRAP® brand packaging, SEE Automation solutions and prismiq smart packaging and digital printing.

SEE’s Operating Model, together with our industry-leading expertise in materials, engineering and technology, create value through more sustainable, automated, and digitally connected packaging solutions. We are leading the packaging industry in creating a more environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable future and have pledged to design or advance 100% of our packaging materials to be recyclable or reusable by 2025, with a bolder goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions in our global operations by 2040. Our Global Impact Report highlights how we are shaping the future of the packaging industry. We are committed to a diverse workforce and caring, inclusive culture through our 2025 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion pledge.

SEE generated $5.5 billion in sales in 2021 and has approximately 16,500 employees who serve customers in 114 countries/territories. To learn more, visit sealedair.com.

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County board moves ahead with Great Wolf Resort development

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors took a step on Tuesday to bringing North America’s largest water park resort in the county. The board approved a request from the Tulare County Resource Management Agency to receive an Economic Impact Analysis for the Great Wolf Resort. Great Wolf plans to place the resort at Highway 99 and Caldwell Avenue just west of Visalia where the Sequoia Gateway Commerce Center is being developed.

The 35-acre resort would include a 525-room hotel with an indoor water park, restaurants, meeting space and a family activity center. There are 19 Great Wolf Resorts located throughout the U.S. And Canada. Great Wolf Resort is billed as “a cruise ship that’s permanently parked” as virtually all of the features of the resort are indoors. As part of the Economic Impact Analysis the board approved an agreement between the county and Great Wolf in which the county and resort would share the revenues from the transient occupancy taxes that are charged to guests who stay at the hotel.

Great Wolf and the county would share the TOT taxes for the first 15 years. Great Wolf would receive 100 percent of the TOT proceeds over the first five years. Over the next five years the county would receive 25 percent of the proceeds and the resort would receive 75 percent. Over the final five years the split would be 50-50. After 15 years, the county would receive all of the TOT proceeds. In addition the county would also agree not to provide any financial incentives to an indoor water park that would be 5,000 square feet or larger for 10 years.

In addition Great Wolf would use a portion of its TOT revenue to pay for some of the impact fees it will be charged for the project. County staff reported the revenue sharing agreement with the TOT taxes was necessary for Great Wolf to move ahead with the project. The company that manages the resort will officially be known as GWR Tulare LLC. “To assist with the significant investment associated with the development, GWR Tulare LLC has requested to share a portion of transient occupancy tax revenues that are generated by the project and the deferral of certain impact which will be recaptured through TOT revenue,” county staff reported. “Without these incentive Great Wolf Resorts would not be able to move forward with financing the construction of the proposed development project.”

County staff also stated the incentives provided are similar to what other areas have provided to Great Wolf and similar large-scale resorts. It’s anticipated the final map and development agreement will be completed by the end of the year. Once construction begins its estimated it will take two years. The construction project alone is expected to create 1,255 jobs while the resort once its operating is expected to create 660 jobs.

County staff stated it anticipated the resort would draw more than 600,000 visitors a year. “Hotel water park guests are typically families and can include extended families and groups of friends and family,” the county staff report stated. County staff added those who visit the resort will typically stay for 2-3 days or more and will travel a few hours to come to the resort. “Visitors to the proposed resort would likely come from throughout the San Joaquin Valley and beyond,” county staff stated.

County staff also reported the resort should also benefit the area as a whole economically as some who visit the resort will also go to other businesses to make retail purchases and may eat at other restaurants as well. County staff stated those who don’t state at the hotel who visit the resort will mostly come from Tulare County.


State Explores Commercial Drone Deliveries via Shared Airways

In a first-of-its-kind study in North America, Michigan is researching the feasibility of using drones for commercial delivery beyond visual line of sight or what operators can see, with a plan to seek approval for such flights from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The state’s Transportation Department tapped Airspace Link, a provider of data, software and managed services associated with drone flight, to analyze the air traffic and ground infrastructure that would enable flights in shared air mobility corridors. The company will also study the economic and community impacts of BVLOS operations.

“The big thing that we need to do is be able to make the safety case, have the infrastructure ready, to be able to go to the FAA,” said Charlie Tyson, technology activation manager at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), a partner in the effort. “That’s a big task.”

Airspace Link’s AirHub Insights software, data and services will contribute to the risk analysis that the state will use to seek FAA approval. The solution analyzes more than 50 datasets—ncluding Esri GIS data and information from federal, state, local governments and third parties — to provide actionable information on safety, economic impact and drone reach, said Lisa Peterson, vice president of business development at Airspace Link.

“This Michigan DOT study is all about what will it take to enable these drones to go 20, 30, 40 miles, which they are capable of,” Peterson said. “But because of the current [FAA] rules and regulations and the need to have the visual observation, you can’t do it. Think of this as a digital visual observer that we’re putting together – the ground infrastructure that’s going to help ensure that these drones don’t conflict with manned aviation, that we are sensing where they are at all times, and if there is an event that happens … there’s a safe landing spot along these areas that has been approved for beyond visual line of sight.”

Since January, the study has looked at how drone BVLOS operations could safely happen in three geographic areas. One is southeast Michigan, particularly the highly populated Detroit area.

“We are trying to look at how we can layer highways in the sky, if you will, above the ground-based autonomous vehicle corridor being developed by Cavnue between Detroit and Ann Arbor,” Tyson said. The corridor project started in 2020 to test the viability of a 40-mile driverless vehicle roadway.

The BVLOS study supports the state’s sustainability goals. “We think that with electric, small aircraft it can actually help reduce carbon emissions of moving goods on ground-based trucks and freight,” he said. “It’s important for us to think about how these can positively impact communities and not cause noise pollution or a hindrance to communities.”

The second study area is international deliveries across the state’s border with Ontario, Canada, and the third targets rural and tribal regions in the northwest where residents might struggle to access vital goods, especially in the winter.

“The outcome of this study would be a report outlining the air corridors in those spaces and what infrastructure would be needed to establish them … and what the economic benefit would be,” said Corey Whittington, director of business development at Airspace Link.

The data will also inform route plans, Peterson added. “The state of Michigan is also going to learn by working side-by-side with us as we turn out some initial drone operations,” she said. For instance, last month, the company worked with MissionGO, a drone developer, to determine the best way to deliver medical supplies using a mile-long stretch of railroad tracks between two sites belonging to a local health system.

Airspace Link is an authorized provider of the Low Altitude Authorization Notification Capability (LLANC), a collaboration between FAA and industry that supports the integration of unmanned aerial systems into the airspace. LAANC, pronounced “Lance,” gives drone pilots access to controlled airspace at or below 400 feet and awareness of where they can fly. It also provides air traffic professionals with visibility into where and when drones are operating.

“We basically digitize the skies with our mapping capabilities, and then we also are able to authorize flights in controlled airspace,” Peterson said. “What we’re doing in our system is providing the rules and regulations to unmanned aircraft system pilots—aka drone pilots—on how to navigate the airspace safely and compliantly. Just like on the roads you have street center lines and speed limits and rules you have to follow as a driver, there are rules that drone operators have to follow in the airspace.”

The research is already showing promise. “We have learned that this is very attractive and very interesting for industry,” Tyson said. “We’ve seen a significant influx of tech companies—small and large startups, even large logistics providers [and] some of the big names—reaching out to us and [the Michigan Aeronautics Commission (MAC)] about how they would leverage these corridors and how they can get involved and what type of use cases they would have.”

Another promising area is the use of the state’s many regional airports for drone operations— “looking at how takeoff and landing locations and logistics hubs for drones can be aligned with airports or at airports,” Tyson said. Michigan’s aviation system already contributes more than $22 billion to the state economy each year, according to MDEC.

In addition to MAC and MDEC, MDOT is working with the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification and the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network. “This model and these corridors that are being developed, we hope to be able to then scale to other parts throughout Michigan,” Tyson said.


McFarland fruit-breeding facility expected to attract talent, partner companies

The research and development facility being built in the McFarland area by fruit breeder International Fruit Genetics LLC comes with hopes it will attract not just top scientific talent but also partner companies in the global push for plants that are better suited to extreme weather, drought, disease and labor shortage.

IFG had employee recruitment in mind when it designed the property’s series of laboratories, including what would be Kern County’s first private-sector, federally certified clean plant-growing facility. The facility’s university-like campus was laid out for top biologists from around the country to “feel at home and motivated,” CEO Andy Higgins said.

But that’s not what Higgins was referring to when he said the company’s vision was that “if you build it, they will come.” He meant IFG expects to attract and collaborate with automation companies and those using sensor-based algorithms for optimizing moisture and sunlight. The $14 million project follows the recent opening of a similar facility in Wasco by fellow fruit breeder Sun World International LLC. Both are introducing high technology to Kern County agriculture in ways expected to extend across the globe.

Higgins said Fruitworks / The IFG Discovery Center, now about halfway built and expected to fully open in fall 2023, was a big part of the reason IFG received a purchase offer from food breeder SNFL Investments LLC, a subsidiary of Spanish conglomerate AM Fresh and its minority partner in the transaction, Swedish investment firm EQT Future. AM Fresh wanted an R&D presence in North America for work on joint projects, he said, adding that the McFarland complex will be bigger than the Spanish company’s own labs in Europe.

During a tour Wednesday of the 160-acre facility along Elmo Highway, Higgins went over the painstaking measures IFG uses to identify favorable plant traits, including long stems and consistent bunch sizes for purposes of automation. He explained plans to run 20,000-plus seedlings per year through a series of tests to see how well they hold up to weather and water extremes, shipping and consumer tastes. “It’s a big investment, but we know there’s big challenges coming down the road,” he said.

The project consolidates IFG’s operations around Kern and brings more functions in-house. Fruitworks is expected to have 25,000 square feet of greenhouses, plus laboratory and support buildings totaling 28,000 square feet. Hundreds of fruit varieties already grow in the property’s vineyards and cherry orchards. The property is expected to allow IFG to expand its staff of about 55 by as many as 17 scientists and other researchers.

Much of the attraction of Fruitworks, Higgins expects, is its scientific rigor. There will be a pathology lab in which plants known to be free of impurities will be exposed to diseases, and next to it, a biology and general chemistry lab where the company expects to learn more about flavor and the experience of eating fruit.

From there Higgins continued to a tissue culture lab space where small plant cells will be grown inside test tubes in a strictly sterile environment. Clones of these plants will be exported overseas to growers that pay for a license to grow IFG’s varieties.

Next, he showed off an incomplete greenhouse planned to be certified as clean by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After that, he proceeded to another greenhouse where plant cuttings will be exposed to temperature and drought extremes, and from there, to a “hard-knock” area putting fruit plants through even tougher conditions.

A cold storage area was Higgins’ next stop, with its post-harvest physiology lab for testing fruit varieties against a list of performance measures. Among other hurdles to be cleared is a requirement grapes taste the same 45 days after harvest as they do when freshly picked.

Behind the laboratory complex stand row after row of vineyards filling with grape varieties with names like Bebop, Julep and Quip, chosen for their easy pronunciation and lack of negative connotations in at least 12 different languages. Many of the grapes showed surface waxiness, a characteristic sometimes mistaken for pesticide, but which actually offers protection and fetches a premium in Asian markets.

Some of the grapes were red, some green or yellow; others were black, a sign of highest antioxidant concentration. Raisins growing nearby were drying on the vine, an improvement to conventional processes that either cost more or risk moisture damage. In July IFG patented its first raisin variety, which Higgins said was a first for a private-sector breeder. Drying on the vine also makes for easier automation, he added. “That’s what the California industry is really looking for,” he said.