Category: Economy

VALLEY’S FASTEST GROWING COMPANIES SHINE BRIGHT

The number of employees at Solar Maintenance Pros, Inc. dba Solar Negotiators increased to 78 this year. Photo contributed by Solar Negotiatiors.

Published On November 4, 2019 – 12:02 PM
Written By 

With The Business Journal’s 2019 Fastest Growing Companies list (published Oct. 25) comes a variety of companies ranging from upstarts in their industries to recognizable, household names that continue to grow today.

Three companies on the list — No. 5 Boling Air Media you might see at Fresno State games and at the newly revived Lemoore Naval Air Show; No. 2 Suncrest Bank has been in Tulare County since 2008, expanding beyond the Valley in recent years; and the No. 1 company, Solar Maintenance Pros dba Solar Negotiators — found success offering a variety of services in an emerging market.

 

Absorbing the rays

At the beginning of 2016, then-Solar Negotiators and Solar Maintenance Pros hadn’t yet finished the leg of their journey that brought them to being a multimillion-dollar company experiencing nearly 12,000% revenue growth over three years.

The solar brokerage firm that connected homeowners to installers was still separate from the solar panel cleaning service, Solar Maintenance Pros. But by this year, Solar Maintenance Pros surpassed Negotiators in revenue and employees. Leadership decided to combine the two companies into the same entity, offering both installations under their own contractor’s license and upkeep throughout the solar panel’s lifetime.

Owner Chris Moran started Solar Negotiators in 2009, offering consultative services to customers and contracting with a network of installers. They would do marketing, project management and consultations and “anything that didn’t require a contractor’s license,” said Leroy Coffman, president/co-owner of the now-combined Solar Maintenance Pros, Inc., dba Solar Negotiators. This allowed contractors to focus on installations instead of marketing and business development. In 2014, ownership expanded their offerings with maintenance services.

In the Central Valley’s four-county area, 10,000 solar permits are issued every year, estimates Coffman. And in the Central Valley’s dry, dusty climate, Coffman says panels should be cleaned every year to optimize efficiency. Dirty panels limit a panel’s power intake. That’s when Moran, Coffman and others started Solar Maintenance Pros, Inc.

“Solar Maintenance Pros enabled us to be more proactive in that we visit the customer site once a year and give it a visual inspection,” Coffman said. “It turned out that was a very important need that wasn’t being filled.”

Now, Coffman calls Solar Maintenance Pros the “largest provider of solar panel maintenance in the Central Valley.” They even started a company to monitor a system’s power intake and output called Solar Data Pros.

At the beginning of 2016, Solar Maintenance had 3 employees, grossing $44,095 in revenue. With the consolidated company, they now employ 78 people and in 2018, grossed $5.29 million.

“Those people are counting on that power to offset their bill,” Coffman said. “We want to become the top provider of maintenance services and cleaning services for all of those systems.”

 

Growth as a strategy

What was once limited to $99 million in assets and two branches in Tulare County ended up with more than $1 billion in assets and seven branches, stretching from Yuba City to Porterville.

Visalia-based Suncrest Bank is no stranger to lists measuring growth.

As part of a strategy of acquiring assets dating back to 2013, the 800% asset growth the bank experienced between 2013 and 2018 made them the fastest growing community bank in the nation, said Ciaran McMullan, president/CEO.

“We wanted to grow quickly and we wanted to grow by acquisition,” McMullan said.

Three successful capital raises primed them to acquire banks in Fresno, Yuba City and Sacramento, the latter two being new markets for the bank.

They called the goal “Five-in-five” — to grow by $500 million in five years. They met that goal 18 months ahead of schedule in July 2017. By their target date of May 2018, they held more than $900 million in assets.

“We surpassed even our grand ambition we set out at the end of 2013,” McMullan said.

Those assets have translated into 468% revenue growth since 2016, allowing the bank to expand from 25 employees to 108. The market expansion and asset acquisition put Suncrest in a good position long into the future, he added.

“What it does more than anything else to ready us for the future is it really deepens our talent pool,” McMullan said. “It also broadens our geographic exposure.”

 

Eye to the skies

At No. 5 on The Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Companies list, football fans and aeronautics advocates alike might recognize Boling Air Media’s presence in the skies.

Husband-and-wife team Chris and MaryAnn Boling started the advertising company in 2014 as a way to combine their two passions — marketing and flying.

“My passion has always been to fly, which is a very expensive hobby,” said Chris Boling.

The duo found a way to monetize the pastime by offering marketing opportunities, flying banners and blimps. While technically called a thermal airship due to its using exhaust to move and stay afloat, the company began with the “My Job Depends on Ag” blimp, said Boling. They signed a contract with Fresno State, using skydivers to bring in messages and enliven crowds during halftime shows. They’ve started making appearances at air shows, including the newly revived Lemoore Naval Air Show in September. They’ve done marketing campaigns for national advertisers towing banners and dropping divers to deliver messages.

“Anytime someone wants to put a message up in the air, we can find a media for them,” Boling said.

While there are only 10 pilots in the world who can fly the airship, Boling added, they rely on pilots looking for commercial certification to tow messages. Renting planes to get the necessary 1,500 hours of flying time can be expensive, he said. So, the company contracts with those pilots to deliver messages to the public.

“We’re all living out our wildest dreams thanks to this business,” he said.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/valleys-fastest-growing-companies-shine-bright/?utm_source=Daily+Update&utm_campaign=6cd41e0e0c-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_11_04_09_09&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fb834d017b-6cd41e0e0c-78934409&mc_cid=6cd41e0e0c&mc_eid=a126ded657

MILK PROCESSOR BUYS VISALIA PLANT

Milk Specialties Global, a maker of milk-based nutritional ingredients, has purchased the Visalia milk-processing plant it has leased since 2012. Photo via MSG

Published On November 22, 2019 – 2:15 PM
Written By 

Milk Specialties Global, a maker of milk-based nutritional ingredients, has purchased the Visalia milk-processing plant it has leased since 2012.

“The acquisition of the facility demonstrates the company’s commitment to continue to operate the facility that employees 74 people and processes over two million pounds of raw milk per day,” states a press release issued by the Minnesota-based company.

MSG officials didn’t disclose the price paid for the 80,000-square-foot plant.

Milk brought to the Visalia plant is processed into liquid calf milk replacer and proteins most commonly used in sports nutrition drinks.

Liquid calf milk replacer is commonly used by dairies and calf ranches to feed pre-weaned calves.

The press release goes on to say that MSG has made significant investments to expand its Visalia production capacity, operational efficiencies and improve its sustainability. “By acquiring the facility, the company is securing this critical asset to support the long-term future growth of their business.

“After acquiring the facility, we are committed to making further investments in the operation to keep up with our customers’ growing demand while continuing to maintain our quality reputation,” Troy Peifer, MSG’s chief financial officer, said in the release.

The factory is located at 715 N. Divisadero St.

“The Visalia facility is critical to our milk protein business and continued success in manufacturing ingredients that are used in nutritional products for consumers and animals around the world,” Peifer added.

Massive solar project 8 years in the making debuts in eastern Kern

Eastern Kern County’s vast renewable-energy potential will shine brightly Friday as corporate and government leaders celebrate the completion of an eight-year, roughly 1,400-acre photovoltaic project designed to generate enough electricity to power more than 150,000 homes in the Los Angeles area.

With a price tag estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars, L.A.-based 8minute Solar Energy’s three-phase Springbok project in Cantil has put the area’s otherwise underused real estate to use creating some 850 construction and maintenance positions, as well as 1,100 indirect jobs.

Viewed in the context of existing wind farms in the Tehachapi area and a larger solar plant under development nearby by the same company, the project demonstrates the renewable-energy potential of a county that is sometimes overshadowed by its better-known oil and gas portfolio.

The project’s developer described its achievement in historic terms.

“The Springbok cluster is the first place in the country where solar beat the price of fossil fuels,” 8minute Solar spokesman Jeff McKay said by email. “This is where we helped prove to the world that the future of energy belongs to solar.”

County Supervisor Zack Scrivner, whose district encompasses the project, welcomed the project’s completion.

“I support appropriately located renewable energy projects that hire locally and contribute to the organizations and needs of the community,” Scrivner said by email. “8Minute Energy has shown they are here for the long term and I congratulate them on another successful project in the center of energy for California.”

The project’s 448-megawatt-dc of electricity is being sold to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the city of Glendale.

Next up for 8minute Solar is the project known as Eland, a more than $1 billion installation touted as the nation’s largest solar energy project. Sited a little more than half a mile away from the Springbok cluster, it was recently approved by the city of Los Angeles.

What makes Eland special is its energy-storage capacity. Besides generating some 400 megawatts of power, it is designed to store up to 1,200 megawatt-hours of electricity when it opens in 2023, according to 8minute Solar.

Also extraordinary is its cost: Eland is said to offer the lowest combined solar and storage prices anywhere.

https://www.bakersfield.com/news/massive-solar-project-years-in-the-making-debuts-in-eastern/article_50683350-0735-11ea-b562-df2a68bf6796.html

Kern Community College District receives $678,514 to assist local companies to train employees

  • November 20, 2019

Kern Community College District’s Board of Trustees approved a contract with the California Employment Training Panel which will provide KCCD up to $678,514 in funds to help local companies improve the skills of their workforce through training.

The contract period is two years.

The California Employment Training Panel provides funding to employers to assist in upgrading the skills of their workers through training that leads to good paying, long-term jobs. This is KCCD’s seventh ETP contract.

Kern Community College District will utilize these funds to help businesses throughout its service area including Bakersfield College, Porterville College and Cerro Coso Community College.

KCCD’s ETP contract allows for training in various areas including industrial skills, continuous improvement, computer skills, management and leadership skills, safety, and medical skills.

Companies interested in accessing these training funds may contact Bill Elliott at Kern Community College District at 661-395-4109 or at welliott@kccd.edu.

FOSTER FARMS ACQUIRES 19 NEW RANCHES; ORGANIC, FREE-RANGE EXPANSION PLANNED

Image via Foster Farms

Published On October 22, 2019 – 2:39 PM
Written By 

It’s a done deal after nearly a year of wrangling over the assets of Zacky Farms.

Livingston-based Foster Farms has completed the acquisition of 19 poultry ranches in the Central Valley, purchased as part of Zacky Farms’ bankruptcy settlement proceedings, says the company in a statement released this month.

The new ranches join hundreds of Foster Farms-owned facilities in California and more than 39 family-owned farms in Oregon and Washington. The new Central Valley ranches will allow Foster Farms to meet growing demand for the company’s California-grown, antibiotic-free, Certified Organic and free-range fresh chicken and turkey products.

The Central California ranch acquisitions come amid Foster Farms’ recent expansion in Merced County and the development of a new organic feed mill. Foster Farms remains family-owned and celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.

“From the start, Foster Farms has steadily grown through strategic purchases of highly desired land, poultry ranches and facilities in the West Coast and beyond,” said Ira Brill, Foster Farms’ vice president of communications. “Our continued growth in California helps to increase the availability of our premium antibiotic-free, Certified Organic and free-range chicken and turkey products for our valued retail customers and ultimately, to West Coast families who prefer Foster Farms for their chicken and turkey meals.”

https://thebusinessjournal.com/foster-farms-acquires-19-new-ranches-organic-free-range-expansion-planned/?utm_source=Daily+Update&utm_campaign=79167a39c9-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_22_08_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fb834d017b-79167a39c9-78934409&mc_cid=79167a39c9&mc_eid=a126ded657

2 years since its reopening, Fulton Street continues to develop

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — As thousands celebrated year two of Fulton Street’s reopening, Valley native Reza Assemi took Action News inside one of his latest projects.

“I bought this with a partner Jamin Brazil,”

Assemi is one of the developers behind buildings like Iron Bird Lofts, Broadway Studios and the old theater three. But now he is looking to turn this 1918 building on Inyo and Fulton into something new.

“We are looking to do commercial space downstairs so hopefully taprooms, entertainment-driven businesses and upstairs tech space,” he said.

Assemi tells Action News for over two decades he has envisioned changing the scope of this area.

“I love downtown. It’s rich with visuals, so that’s exciting to take something beautiful, neglected and bring it back. And the gravy on top is to make it entertaining,” he said.

And it is happening. Many people are glad to see what was once shut down now thriving.

“It seems like it turned around it’s a beautiful place to be,” said Shane Baker of Fresno.

“It’s kinda cool because I started to come down for the Fuego games and foxes and then noticing all beer gardens and cool events,” said Tony Dusan of Madera.

Mark Standriff with the City of Fresno says the reopening of Fulton Street has increased gross revenue and boosted the economy.

“It has grown over 1,500% which is an amazing figure, so this kind of growth is just the beginning,” he said.

And as Assemi works to continue investing and revitalizing downtown Fresno, people can be seen from the second-floor window of his next project taking in what he and many others hoped to create.

“It doesn’t exist without that interest without the public, so I really think they are the ones making this happen,” he said.

Assemi says construction on this project will likely begin next month. He tells Action News it might take about five months to complete, but he and his partner are hoping it will be ready by next spring.

https://abc30.com/2-years-since-its-reopening-fulton-street-continues-to-develop/5632356/

Merced County employment hits highest point in decades. Which jobs saw the most gains?

 

More people were working last month in Merced County than at any time in almost 30 years, and the number of people out of work was at its second-lowest point in September – a combination that drove the county’s unemployment rate to its lowest point in decades.

Estimates released Friday by the state Employment Development Department indicated Merced County’s unemployment rate was 5.5%. That’s the lowest it’s been since current tracking methods began in 1990. The previous low-water mark was a year ago, when the county’s unemployment rate was estimated at 6.0%.

Across the central San Joaquin Valley, “August and September are historically the months reflecting the lowest rates each year because of seasonal swings in agricultural employment and because schools have teachers and staff returning to work after the summer,” said Steven Gutierrez, an EDD labor market consultant.

The state estimated the number of people with jobs in the county at nearly 112,000, the highest number for any month going back to 1990. About 6,500 people were estimated to be out of work; that’s the lowest number since 1990. The county’s current population is estimated at almost 283,000 by the state Department of Finance.

The statewide unemployment rate in California dipped to 3.5%, the lowest since 1990, and down from 3.9% a year earlier. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national jobless rate was 3.5%, down from 3.7% in September 2018.

September also represented new record low unemployment rates in Fresno, Kings and Madera counties. In Tulare County, the unemployment rate was 7.6%, well above other central San Joaquin Valley counties and short of the record of pre-recession lows of 7.1% in May and September of 2006.

The numbers released Friday are unprecedented for most of the Valley, said employment analyst Michael Bernick, a San Francisco attorney who served as director of the state EDD from 1999 to 2004.

“For most of the past 40 years, it’s been a double-digit unemployment rate, and in the Great Recession it was up above 15 percent,” Bernick said Friday. “The growth of health care and education (in the Valley) have led to a more diverse economy, and that’s one of the main factors statewide, too. Out of 11 or so major industry sectors, nearly all have shown job gains over the past year.”

SECTORS WITH LARGEST GAINS

Government jobs with local, state and federal agencies saw the biggest employment gains in Merced County over the past year, together adding about 1,300 jobs. Private-sector education and health services also grew by a combined 700 jobs. .

Bernick said concerns that he and other analysts had that international trade tariffs might harm industries of importance to the state, including agriculture in the Valley, have largely not been realized.

Instead, he said, California has experienced a long-term period of post-recession job growth that has already lasted for 9 1/2 years, dating to the early years of the Obama administration, “well beyond previous employment expansions.”

But, he cautioned, external factors including the national economy and potential effects of longer-lasting tariffs on international trade partners could derail the expansion.

Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, said he’s excited about the continued job growth in the region and the health of the local economy in a region that has historically had higher unemployment rates and lower average wages than most of the rest of the state.

“The old adage is that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Konczal said. “And although our boat is coming up less quickly than other parts of the state, it’s still coming up.”

Konczal said one particular bright spot in the Valley is the construction industry, which was hit hard when the house-building boom in the region collapsed in the mid-2000s, helping to spark the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009. “Housing is one of the areas now that is booming over and above the continuing high-speed rail project, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s funded for next year,” he said. “School districts are talking about more facilities construction, and we’re getting people prepped for those construction jobs.”

“We also have a small but important manufacturing sector that is starved for qualified workers,” Konczal added, referring to the stability of jobs producing durable goods rather than food processing businesses that typically see more turnover among employees.

Both Bernick and Konczal tempered their enthusiasm by pointing out what’s not included in Friday’s employment numbers.

“We don’t have a good handle on what we would call the ‘underemployment rate,’ or people working in multiple part-time jobs or multiple jobs in which the wages are not at the level where those workers have been before,” Konczal said. “There are lot of service-sector jobs where people are holding multiple part-time positions and trying to make ends meet.”

Bernick noted that in addition to making no distinction between part-time and full-time positions, the employment figures say nothing about how much the jobs pay.

https://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/article236418983.html

Economic event in Merced turned spotlight on San Joaquin Valley’s land, people and opportunity

10/08/2019  by Ed Coghlan

The University of California, Merced was a fitting venue for the Regions Rise Together meeting in the north San Joaquin Valley last week. UC Merced, the youngest of the UC campuses, is the first American research university of the 21st century. Its research agenda on issues of agriculture, water supply and sustainability, forest resiliency and ag tech mirrors the future of the region and the state.

It also is a university of the future in terms of whom it is educating, as interim Chancellor Nathan Brostrom told the gathering of leaders from the region, with first generation college students making up 70% of the 8,200 undergraduate student population.

Regions Rise Together is led by GO-Biz and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) in partnership with CA Fwd and the California Stewardship Network. The Merced event was the fourth of five joint strategy sessions held in inland California to gather input from local stakeholders to understand the challenges that face the inland regions as well as what can be utilized for future economic growth.

“The event offered unique opportunities to inventory the incredible assets of the Valley that both defined our strengths and opportunities and fostered in me a greater sense of how all of us can collaborate together to support rising up our region,” said West Hills Community College Chancellor Stuart Van Horn. “I was delighted to integrate higher education perspectives among and between the various workgroups and sessions.”

In addition to education, the region’s transportation, housing, workforce development, water and air quality and economic development were discussed.

“Again we heard the diverse voices from different sectors and different parts of the San Joaquin Valley coming together to talk about the future of the region that they want to see,” said Lenny Mendonca, the chief economic and business advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom and director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). For Mendonca, a proud native of nearby Turlock, this meeting was more than symbolic.

“We understand the underdog feeling of inland California,” said Mendonca. “Regions Rise Together is trying to change the mental map of California so there’s more economic balance across the regions.”

Assemblymember Adam Gray thanked Governor Newsom for attention paid to inland California and said it’s time to take advantage of the opportunity and attention that the Governor is giving the region—pointing out that the Valley has land, space, opportunity and the people to accelerate and sustain economic growth in the region.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen echoed the sentiment and said there is “historical cynicism” in the San Joaquin Valley of how the region is treated by the state, pointing that SB 1 was passed with great fanfare but included no money for Highway 99, which connects some many cities in the region.

Olsen also pointed out the region needs to be more insistent on adequate representation on State boards and commissions.

The interconnectivity of the state is felt in the northern San Joaquin Valley, where thousands of people commute to the Bay Area because they can’t afford to live there. Better transit is one answer, while many pointed out more companies could be located in the Valley where costs are lower and workers are plentiful.

Previous meetings up and down inland California have resulted in common theme. While much of coastal California sees inland California a certain way—inland California is not all the same. The differences noted in the three meetings held in the Inland Empire, Bakersfield in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and Merced show that each are distinct economies with distinct opportunities and challenges.

“The state is so complicated with so many different economies, it requires a sharp focus to make sure every region in included,” said California Forward CEO Micah Weinberg. “The Governor is committed to outlining a set of proposals and thoughts to make sure every part of California is heard in how we build a vibrant, inclusive, sustainable and resilient economy.”

The Governor will announce proposals for inland California at the 2019 California Economic Summit in Fresno on November 7-8.

CA Fwd noted that the success of the Merced event was due in great part from help from a number of local and regional partners including Andy Cheasey, San Joaquin Council of Governments; Cori Lucero, UC Merced; Dan Leavitt, San Joaquin Valley Power Authority; Frank Quintero and Stephanie Dietz of the city of Merced; Mariann Kaanon of Stanislaus Community Foundation; Moses Zapien, Community Foundation of San Joaquin and Steve Lantzberger of the Economic Development Association of San Joaquin County.

https://cafwd.org/reporting/entry-new/economic-event-in-merced-turned-spotlight-on-san-joaquin-valleys-land-peopl

WE’RE BACK, BABY! FRESNO TOP AG COUNTY ONCE AGAIN

Workers sort navel oranges earlier this year at Kings River Packing, northeast of Sanger. Photo by David Castellon.

Published On October 8, 2019 – 11:23 AM
Written By David Castellon

For the first time since 2013, Fresno County is the top agricultural county in California and the U.S.

This news comes with the Tuesday morning release of the 2018 Tulare County crop and livestock report, which shows sales of agricultural goods produced there last year totaled more than $7.21 billion, a 2.5% increase from ag sales in 2017.

In 2017, Kern County was the top ag county based on sales, followed by Tulare and Fresno counties, respectively.

But based on this latest crop report and those previously released, Fresno County shot up in the rankings to the top spot, with 2018 gross ag sales totaling more than $7.88 billion, followed by more than $7.46 billion in sales by Kern County farmers, ranchers, apiarists and others.

Although the data on 2018 ag sales isn’t in for all California counties and those in the rest of country, Fresno, Tulare and Kern have far and away been the top ag-producing counties in the nation in terms of ag sales.

For years, Fresno held on solidly to the first-place spot until Tulare County knocked it off that spot in 2014. After that, the top ag county title was held annually by either Tulare or Kern counties.

A big part of the reason for Fresno County falling short of the No. 1 ranking those years was due to California’s five-year drought that began in late 2011— the worst in the state’s recorded history — causing major water shortages in the western end of Fresno County that forced farmers there to limit their farming or let fields go fallow.

Weather and water conditions have since improved in the region.

As for the other South Valley counties, ag sales in Kings County totaled more than $2.35 billion last year and $2.05 billion in Madera County.

Those two counties ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively, among California’s ag counties in 2017.

It wasn’t immediately clear how they ranked statewide or nationally in 2018, as those tallies will not be compiled and disclosed until next year.

Madera, Kings and the other three South Valley counties all saw their ag sales totals increase last year.

For Tulare County, long the top dairy county in the U.S., it’s no surprise milk was the top-selling ag commodity in 2018, with sales totaling more than $1.68 billion. But that was down more than 5% — $93.1 million — from 2017 sales.

The report shows that the price of milk purchased from dairies declined from about $16.39 per hundredweight — 100 pounds — in 2017 by about a dollar in 2018, which reduced the total income dairies in the county received for their milk, even though production was up slightly.

It goes on to say that poultry and livestock values among Tulare County sales also declined slightly in 2018.

Sales of field crops rose nearly 9% from 2017 to 2018, which the county’s agricultural commissioner and his staff attributed to higher prices paid for them, while the 5.7% rise in sales of fruits and nuts is at least partially attributed to farmers expanding their production acreage of blueberries, pomegranates and tangerines.

Sales of ornamental trees and shrubs, as well as nursery-raised products, experienced even more vigorous growth over the same period of 47% and 34.7%, respectively, while sales of vegetable crops declined nearly 16% to $17. 2 million.

Part of the reason for the latter drop was due to farmers harvesting 931 fewer acres of vegetables last year compared to 2017, according to the crop report.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/were-back-baby-fresno-top-ag-county-once-again/?utm_source=Daily+Update&utm_campaign=bfd5b60568-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_08_08_31&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fb834d017b-bfd5b60568-78934409&mc_cid=bfd5b60568&mc_eid=a126ded657

How a massive Amazon wind farm promises to change a tiny town in rural America

KEY POINTS
  • Amazon announced three new wind farm projects in April 2019 as part of their goal to become net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
  • Large wind and solar farms create economic booms for rural communities.
  • Even after an initial construction boom, there is room for business growth.
H-O_WindPowerinTehachapi
The Tehachapi Mountain Range is home to around 4,731 wind turbines that generate about 3,200 megawatts of energy.
City of Tehachapi

Buried in the mountains of southern California lies a field of white. It’s not your typical farm: It produces renewable energy. The Tehachapi Pass is home to one of the largest wind farms in the world. Now a huge tech company is bringing more turbines to the area, and it is going to have an impact on a nearby community.

In April, Amazon announced three new wind farm projects — two overseas, and one in the Tehachapi (teh-HATCH-ah-pee) Mountains, located in southern California. The farms will help contribute to Amazon’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and 100% renewables by 2030.

The mountain range is a hub for the wind industry, with around 4,731 turbines that produce about 3,200 megawatts of electricity along the mountain range, according to the Center for Land Use Interpretation, with private companies flocking to the area because of the high wind speeds. Farther north is the Altamont Pass wind farm, which helps power another tech giant: Alphabet’s Google.

Located just northeast of the mountain range is the town of Tehachapi. With a population of about 12,000, Tehachapi Mayor Pro-Tem Phil Smith called it a nice little mountain town, and while the power being produced from wind only comes to the town indirectly through the grid, Tehachapi gets something else directly as a result of the big renewable energy investments.

“The good news for us is obviously we have the economic impact,” said Tehachapi economic development coordinator Corey Costelloe.

Outside contractors come in to work on the wind turbines, staying in the town’s hotels and eating at its restaurants, like Kohnen’s Country Bakery, one of the town’s more popular local eateries. Family owned by Colleen and Thomas Kohnen, the bakery has been around since 2004. Colleen says the bakery is growing, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is because of the wind industry. Though she says that she does get customers who come from out of the city to work on the windmills.

“I had one guy come in last week, and I guess he was staying in a hotel during the week or something,” Khonen said. “And his wife and daughter came up to visit him. That just introduces people (to the bakery).”

Stephen Abbott, city renewables accelerator manager at Rocky Mountain Institute, says that small businesses seeing an increase in revenue is part of the initial economic boom that follows a renewable energy farm.

Keeping jobs local

According to estimates from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the construction of a 47 megawatt (the size of Amazon’s new farm) renewable energy farm could produce around 50 new jobs.

One company wants to keep those jobs in Tehachapi.

World Wind and Solar is a renewable energy maintenance company that moved its headquarters to Tehachapi in 2019.

WWS CEO Buddy Cummings has deep ties to Tehachapi. His father, Steve Cummings, installed some of the first wind turbines in the town. Cummings feels moving the company to Tehachapi is a homecoming of sorts.

“The relationships that got us into the renewables market are the relationships we grew up with,” Cummings said. “Tehachapi just feels like home.”

WWS has a goal of keeping their work local. Cummings says that he tries to hire Tehachapi residents, and use word of mouth marketing.

“We grow by people telling their friends and family,” Cummings said.

The company, which started in wind but has diversified into solar, requires workers to do general labor maintaining solar panels — cleaning and upkeep. The company hires workers to do that work for 60 to 90 days, and if they perform well, the company brings them back to Tehachapi for two to three weeks of training, teaching them how to do more technical maintenance on wind turbines and solar arrays. After the training they can become full-time technicians.

“It’s a quick and healthy way to get people work,” Cummings said. “It has such an opportunity to grow a career so fast.”

The workers coming in to train are spending their dollars at local businesses, like Kohnen’s Bakery, which cited the World Wind and Solar training period as a profitable time because the renewable energy company recommends it to trainees.

“The wind farms have generated quite a number of very good technical, good-paying jobs that can sustain a family and the employers have benefits,” Mayor Pro-Tem Smith said. “So the people in the workforce can look forward to actually a career in the industry if they want, and the pay is good enough where they can afford a home and stay here.”

Wind turbine technicians are making just over $54,000 a year ($26.14 per hour), according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. It forecast employment growth of 57% for wind turbine technicians from 2018 to 2028. In 2018, there were 6,600 wind turbine technician jobs in the U.S., according to BLS data.

api isn’t the only area that has seen an economic updraft from the wind industry.

Benton County, Indiana (pop. 8,700) has multiple wind projects developed over the past decade, one operated by Pattern Energy which supports electricity needs for an Amazon Web Services data center. The AWS farm, its first major renewables project, went into operation in early 2016, and Paul Jackson, director of economic development for Benton County says the area has seen gradual growth after big, initial booms from its wind farm projects.

“Everything kind of flattens out,” Jackson said. “The big boom is over, and you get into the reality of it.”

The Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge project is expected to make $5 million in economic development payments to Benton County over a period of 17 years. The project is entitled to 100% property tax abatements for a 10-year period, after which property tax revenue for the county will start being generated as well.

“Once wind farms came off of abatement, we are getting tax dollars. The tax money is fantastic,” Jackson said.

Between 2008 and 2018, taxes on Benton County wind farms have permitted the county to allocate an additional $3 million to schools, additional money to medical services, $35 million to new roads — upgraded roads were required to transport giant wind turbines to sites — and a total of $31 million in economic development payments to be made to the county through 2038.

A September article from the Wall Street Journal highlighted that farmers in the U.S. are leasing land out for renewable energy farms to help themselves in a difficult financial time.

“I think one thing we shouldn’t lose sight of is that a lot of farmers in the middle of the country are relatively strapped economically,” Abbott said. “Wind or solar can be a really useful additional revenue stream for people and those communities, particularly if it helps them get through a particular commodity down cycle.”

Facebook’s solar power projects

Big corporations want to build on cheaper land in rural areas and that, in turn, can help these rural economies from regressing to the mean by attracting follow-up projects.

Los Lunas, New Mexico is a good example.

The village has a population of roughly 15,000 people, and will soon be home to a Facebook data center, as well as solar farms to power it. The solar farm was an additional project that will help Facebook reach its goal of making the data center 100% renewable. Data center’s like this one and Amazon’s in Benton County are energy-intensive operations.

Both Las Lunas projects are in the construction phase, and are slated to be finished in 2023. Los Lunas economic development manager Ralph Mims says that the construction has helped workers, who previously had to work out of state, find jobs in the area. Much like Tehachapi, the village has seen a similar economic impact from big tech coming in.

“Since Facebook announced, we’ve got an uptick in our retail footprint,” Mims said. “We’ve had new restaurants come in, we have a third McDonald’s.”

Los Lunas also has several new housing projects that are in the works, but Mims believes that is because of natural growth, not only because of Facebook.

“Facebook of course has helped, but I would say that it’s a natural occurrence.” Mims said. “People want to live in a smaller town, taxes are cheaper down here, housing is super close to Albuquerque, we are about 10-15 minutes from the airport.”

Mims said that other companies currently operating under “code names” have inquired about land in the area, citing low costs and favorable weather conditions as reasons for likely future projects.

Abbott said there is little if any economic downside for smaller communities, like Tehachapi and Benton County, getting into the renewable energy business.

“Wind and solar provide a really important additional value and way to maintain the communities that are struggling in rural America, and have the potential to bring technical jobs and new sources of revenue and income to help support these communities during the energy transition.