Del Monte Closing Indiana Plant, Shifting Work to California

AP
Sept. 12, 2017

Del Monte Foods plans to close a northern Indiana tomato processing plant with about 100 workers and shift its production to a central California facility.

PLYMOUTH, Ind. (AP) — Del Monte Foods plans to close a northern Indiana tomato processing plant with about 100 workers and shift its production to a central California facility.

The company announced Tuesday it would start layoffs in November as it ceases production at the Plymouth, Indiana, plant that makes ketchup, tomato-based sauces, and juice from concentrate. Warehouse and distribution work is expected to end by February, when the facility will close.

Del Monte says in a state filing that it expects the closing will be permanent.

The company says the closing will align its production capacity with current consumer demand. Production will be shifted to a plant in Hanford, California.

Bay Valley Foods said last month it would be closing its Plymouth facilities, eliminating about 150 jobs.

Self-driving cars now roam across former California military facilities

San Francisco Chronicle
By David R. Baker
September 5, 2017

The empty runway stretching before Mark Hendrickson extends so far that its edges vanish in the heat shimmer of a broiling Central Valley afternoon.

Presidents have landed here, back when it was the center of a bustling Air Force base. Aerial firefighters battling blazes in the Sierra foothills touch down here to refill their tankers with water and flame retardant before taking off for another run.

Part of it already is. Google leased a 91.5-acre chunk of the base in 2014, sealing it off from the rest with a black fence. Now, white Chrysler minivans topped with sensors run daily tests through a maze of refurbished streets, complete with a rain tunnel to simulate bad weather.

“When Google came in here, it opened up a number of eyes,” Hendrickson said. “Other industry leaders started coming to us as well and saying, ‘What if?’”

The base could allow automakers and tech companies to put autonomous cars through the kinds of tests they can’t easily or safely do in public: situations where cars must navigate the same oddly shaped intersection over and over again, or where they must evade other cars intentionally darting into their way.

The stereo speaker company giving sight to self-driving cars

“This is a very large piece of concrete — a lot of things could happen here,” Hendrickson said, admiring the 2-mile-long runway. “It’s off the beaten path, and you’re not going to bother anybody.”

So far, two facilities have emerged to meet the need.

Google, whose self-driving unit now goes by the name Waymo, uses Castle, and Hendrickson said several automakers stand poised to follow suit, though he declined to name them.

Meanwhile, Honda, Uber and two other companies test their vehicles at a former naval base outside Concord. Renamed GoMentum Station by Contra Costa County officials, the old Concord Naval Weapons Station features a cluster of old buildings that can simulate a small town, while the streets linking rows of munitions bunkers can mimic a city grid.

Officials at each facility say they don’t consider the other competition. There’s more than enough demand to go around.

“Anything we can do to accelerate this technology, we’ll do,” said Randell Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which runs GoMentum Station. “There’s definitely a need for secure test beds. You can’t close down a city street and run the same maneuver over and over again without people complaining.”

Iwasaki first hit upon the idea after then-Contra Costa County Supervisor Susan Bonilla told him to take a look at the old weapons depot and figure out ways it could generate jobs.

“As soon as I got out here, I thought this would be an amazing test facility,” Iwasaki said. “It’s clean, it’s wide-open and it’s guarded by the military.”

“You have buildings, trees, shadowing, sidewalks — everything you need,” Iwasaki said.

Two tunnels nearby show companies how their cars behave when cut off from GPS signals. A long, straight road, meanwhile, has been re-striped to look like an interstate highway. An autonomous big rig from Uber’s self-driving truck division, formerly known as Otto, rumbled back and forth. Not far away, Honda engineers had set up a portable traffic light next to a row of grass-covered bunkers.

At 5,000 acres, the sprawling base is big enough that multiple companies can test there at once without peering over each other’s shoulders. (Chinese Internet giant Baidu also uses the site.) Locked and guarded gates keep out the public, creating a wide-open space populated by fat, burrowing squirrels, flocks of wild turkeys and very few humans.

Although both Concord and the county have long-term plans to redevelop much of the site with housing, offices and parkland, Iwasaki says a portion will be reserved for GoMentum. The station may someday serve as a way to lure tech companies into opening offices there.

“We want those jobs to keep some of our people, so they don’t have to drive south on Interstate 680 every morning,” Iwasaki said.

The base closed as a military installation in 1995, and the county took over ownership in 2006. The Castle Commerce Center, as it’s now known, has about 80 tenants, including a startup designing rocket engines and a UC Merced office researching drones.

While old barracks pocked with shattered windows dot parts of the base, the entire facility has working water, electricity and sewer services, as well as broadband Internet. Waymo, Hendrickson said, even rehabbed some of the buildings into dorms for its engineers.

Waymo declined to let a Chronicle reporter tour its facility.

Hendrickson credited Google with having the idea of using part of the base for self-driving research.

“We did not envision that — it was a little bit of luck,” he said.

Now, however, he sees all the ways that other companies could use Castle for the same purpose. The base features intersections where roads meet at strange angles — potentially confusing a self-driving car. Large hangars can store cars, so companies don’t need to constantly bring vehicles to and from the base.

And for foreign automakers, the airstrip can allow easy access for visiting company executives. Although part of the strip may be redeveloped, most of it will stay open for air traffic.

Hendrickson, however, doesn’t just want Castle to serve as a testing facility. Merced County’s unemployment rate stood at 9.7 percent in July, and the county wants some of the old base used for manufacturing. Castle competed to host Tesla’s battery Gigafactory, but lost out to a site near Reno.

“Are we going to be a place that builds rockets,” Hendrickson said. “Probably not. But can we be a place where components of rockets are built? Absolutely.”

That said, Hendrickson believes Castle can play a key role in keeping California at the forefront of the autonomous vehicle industry.

“While Detroit has been, historically, the global epicenter, the reality is that California has a unique opportunity to be the epicenter for the 21st century,” he said. “And we fully intend to be part of that.”

Electric Vehicles In The Central Valley Could Get A Big Boost Thanks To The VW Settlement

NPR for Central Valley
SEP 12, 2017

A major scandal rocked the auto industry two years ago when it was discovered that the car company Volkswagen had been systematically cheating on diesel emissions tests. That scandal might soon turn into a big boon for electric cars in the Central Valley.

The company agreed to a massive settlement worth more than $1 billion. Over the next ten years, $800 million is supposed to be spent in California to beef up electric car infrastructure and access.  Of that, 35%, or about $280 million, is earmarked for low income and high pollution areas like Fresno, Bakersfield and much of the rest of the San Joaquin Valley.

Joel Espino, with the environmental advocacy group The Greenlining Institute, says the focus is on these areas because they have suffered the most due to VW’s deceit.

“Those emissions, those extra emission, that were put into the air, didn’t affect everyone equally. A lot of the communities who live near busy roads and freeways, low-income communities of color, were harmed the most as a result,” Espino says.

There are more than 66,000 registered electric vehicles in the Central Valley according to the CA DMV

So now a plan is in motion to build up the support network needed to make electric cars viable in low-income areas and across the broad rural plains of the valley.

Dean Florez is with the California Air Resources Control Board, which helped craft the settlement.

He says previously the Central Valley was not appealing for companies to set up charging stations on their own. This led to a chicken and egg scenario, where there aren’t enough places to charge so people are turned off by EVs but there aren’t enough EVs for companies to install charging stations.

“I mean it is kind of like asking someone to buy an IPhone, having it fully charged. And then leaving the store and being told you can only charge it at the local post office which might be 30 or 40 miles away.” Florez says.

Florez sees this settlement as just the boost electric vehicles need. And it’s coming at a time when electric vehicles seem to be finding their niche. This year, EVs are expected to represent about 3% of new car sales state wide. That would be an all-time high.

According to the California DMV, there are almost 168,000 all electric vehicles registered in the state.

“We really want folks to feel like even though they can’t charge at home, they still will have the ability to charge out in the world. You know, you can’t put gas in your car at you home. Most people don’t have a gas station at their house. So it%u2019s really it’s no different than that”-Jamie Hold

At this point, it is unclear where the stations will actually go. However, Florez says they have an agreement with Volkswagen to check in every month and make chargers are being spread out to the areas that most need them, not just the areas where they will be most used.

“Unless we have more density in terms of infrastructure, getting the Central Valley, which is dire need of mobile source reduction in pollution, to move to EVs is almost an impossibility,” Florez says.

This new plan could help people like Jessi Fierro, who is a busy mother of two young children and with a typically packed family car.

“It’s kind of a mom mobile. I manage to keep the front pretty clear. But you will see in the back I have both my car seats ready to go,” Feirro says pointing to car seats in her car at her office.

She drives a Chevy Bolt. That’s an all-electric car with a range of about 230 miles, which for electric cars is really good.  She is lucky because her office offers a charging station for her.

Still, Fierro says she is always aware of where the next charging station is and sometimes plans her trips around them.

Jessi Fierro poses next to her bolt.
CREDIT JEFFREY HESS/KVPR

“And when I have taken my longer trips out of town I am trying to find destinations close to chargers, just so the kids aren’t getting too fussy while I am charging my car. But for the most part, when I am putzing about town I know where a handful of charges are. And actually there are aps too for your phone so you can say ‘I am going to be here. Where are chargers nearby,’” Fierro asks.

Fierro says she has no regrets about going electric and rarely charges her car at home, preferring to find chargers in the wild.

Some possible sites for the new chargers include workplaces, grocery stores, public parks and big box retailers with their massive parking lots. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says they are working to convince, and financially incentivize, businesses to install the chargers for their employees and customers.

Frequent and convenient charging stations are perhaps the most critical part of the plan according to Jamie Holt with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

“We need charging stations to be as prevalent throughout the valley as gas stations are now,” Holt says.

She says they are trying to change hearts and minds about the reliability of access to power for electric vehicles, especially for people who live in apartments or park on the street where at-home charging is not possible.

“We really want folks to feel like even though they can’t charge at home, they still will have the ability to charge out in the world. You know, you can’t put gas in your car at you home. Most people don’t have a gas station at their house. So it’s really it’s no different than that,” Holt says.

Holt says the more the cars saturate the market, the more likely it is people will become more comfortable with the idea of driving an electric car. She also says they are working to break the perception that electric cars are only something that rich people on the coast use.

To that end, she says there are a wealth of rebate and pre-bate programs, some that are income based, to help low and moderate income families go electric. And especially in the valley, those families could stand to the benefit the most.

Tech sector growing vibrantly throughout Central Valley

by Phillip Lan
August 23, 2017
The Central Valley Business Journal

Chances are, when you think of the Central Valley, you think about tomato trucks rumbling down the freeway or shakers knocking down almonds amidst endless rows of trees. You probably don’t think about modern tech companies or millennials working while sipping lattes in open, co-working spaces. But an ever-increasing group of local techies and entrepreneurs are working to change that.

Over the last few decades, the Central Valley’s tech community has been growing — slowly and under the radar. Local commuters working in Bay Area tech companies and tech-related professionals in Central Valley companies now number thousands across the region. Many software developers, often known as coders or hackers, have begun gathering at fun local events such as the Modesto-based Valley Hackathon (https://valleyhackathon.com/), a programming contest where Star Wars-costumed teams furiously write computer code to win thousands in cash and prizes.

Local business leaders who see the economic benefit tech jobs can bring to the region have also jumped in to accelerate the development of a tech community in the Central Valley. Launched several years ago, The Huddle is a co-working space in downtown Stockton which provides entrepreneurs a place to collaborate and create synergies to help each other’s companies grow. Tech startups in Sacramento now have communities like Hacker Lab where they can co-locate with other companies and get access to mentors and resources to improve revenue trajectory. In Fresno, Geekwise Academy has trained thousands of people to develop software over the past few years and its parent company, Bitwise Industries (http://bitwiseindustries.com/), has helped create over 1,000 tech-related jobs in the region. Bitwise now partners with Amazon to train developers on the latest platforms and eventually plans to occupy 2.5 million square feet of commercial space in downtown Fresno.

In Modesto, ValleyWorx, a tech and digital design co-working hub, will begin taking applications from tech companies and entrepreneurs later this month. One of its first tenants will be Bay Valley Tech (http://bayvalleytech.com/), a code academy focused on providing affordable hands-on software skills to working professionals and students preparing to enter the work force. Locating tech students and tech companies in the same building will allow students to more easily find internships and jobs. At the same time, companies based out of ValleyWorx will have access to an ever-expanding talent pool proficient in the latest technologies.

You may be wondering how all of these “geeks” are going to help the rest of our non-tech economy. By creating a thriving tech community in the Central Valley, we will make it a more attractive place for software professionals to settle.

Senior software engineers in California now earn an average salary of $129,000, and some make over $200,000 annually, according to Indeed.com. Not only will ‘hackers’ infuse disposable income into our local economy, their presence will attract Bay Area firms looking for tech talent.

For example, Oportun, a Redwood City-based venture-backed company, set up a software development office in downtown Modesto two years ago and is already outgrowing their space due to rapid hiring. Their executives indicated availability of software talent as a key driver for expanding into the Central Valley.

Other Bay Area companies are also considering expanding to Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto due to the availability of high-tech talent.

In order to continue the momentum and attract even more tech companies to the Central Valley, local businesses, non-profits and government entities are working to do the following:

  1. Create more events such as the Valley Hackathon, 59 Days of Code and Valley Software Developers Meetups in Modesto (https://www.meetup.com/Valley-Software-Developers/) and Stockton (https://www.meetup.com/Valley-Software-Developers-Stockton/) to pull the existing tech community together.
  2. Launch co-working spaces such as The Huddle and ValleyWorx to facilitate collaboration, mentoring and growth.
  3. Expand the Central Valley’s tech community by training thousands more local residents to become software literate through code academies such as Geekwise and Bay Valley Tech. Learning software development skills will help thousands of workers capitalize on upcoming transformative industries such as ag tech, manufacturing automation and self-driving transportation (which all heavily leverage software).

The creation of a growing tech-enabled workforce will make the Central Valley an attractive investment destination for Bay Area tech companies who are now overlooking this region and expanding out of state to cities such as Austin, Denver, Seattle and Portland.The Central Valley needs more high-paying jobs, local residents need a realistic path into software-related careers to prepare for the changing world and Bay Area tech workers need affordable housing.

According to a recent poll by the Bay Area Council, a staggering 46 percent of millennials (people age 18 to 39) living in the San Francisco Bay Area say they’re now ready to leave one of the nation’s most unaffordable housing markets. Many have already left California, expanding the tech talent pool in other states.

As high paying software job openings continue to outpace the supply of programmers in California, this is the perfect time for Central Valley leaders to come together and create a win-win-win solution. A tech ecosystem generating exciting, well-paying jobs will also encourage local students to participate in junior high, high school and college programming and robotics initiatives.

Jumpstarting a tech economy in our ag-focused Central Valley is undoubtedly a Herculean task requiring a community-wide effort. Here are a few opportunities for business and community leaders who would like to help:

  1. Sponsor Stockton’s upcoming Valley Hackathon in October (https://valleyhackathon.com/BecomeASponsor).
  2. Contribute to a code academy scholarship fund.
  3. Sign up as a corporate sponsor of the Bay Valley Tech code academies in Stockton and Modesto.

Valley food producers land nearly $850,000 in USDA grants

Central Valley

Valley food producers land nearly $850,000 in USDA grants

Published on 10/28/2016 – 11:09 am

San Joaquin Valley food producers are on the receiving end of nearly $850,000 in grants meant to help small rural businesses develop new products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a total of $45 million in Value-Added Producer Grants Thursday, going to 325 projects across the U.S.

Local recipients include:
Top o’ the Morn Farms, Tulare
$250,000 to expand farm fresh milk sold in recyclable glass bottles into new geographic markets in Southern California. Funds will be used for increased processing, distribution, promotion and sales support.

Barbara and Tony Martin, Dairy Goddess, Lemoore
$49,000 to provide working capital to expand sales of bottled, non-homogenized/vat pasteurized whole chocolate milk, fromage blanc cheese and curds. Funds will be used for marketing, website development, attendance at the San Francisco Fancy Food Show and signage.

San Joaquin Figs, Fresno
$49,999 to design, package and market organic dried figs and to purchase additional inventory for new markets.

Top Line Milk Co., Winton, Merced County
$245,000 to process whole milk into farm bottled low and slow pasteurized milk.

Blue Diamond, Sacramento
$250,000 to provide working capital to expand marketing and promotional support for the sale of flavored almonds in China and Japan.

“Value-Added Producer Grants are one of USDA’s most sought-after funding sources for veteran and beginning farmers, and rural-based businesses,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a statement. “These grants provide a much-needed source of financing to help producers develop new product lines and increase their income, and keep that income in their communities. Economic development initiatives like this one are working – the unemployment rate in rural America is at an eight-year low and incomes rose 3.4 percent last year. Small business entrepreneurship, which Value-Added Producer Grants support, is a major reason why rural America is a making a comeback.”

Read more HERE

State controller: Central Valley could become tech hub for water-saving technology

Central Valley

State controller: Central Valley could become tech hub for water-saving technology

NOVEMBER 3, 2016 4:43 PM
BY BONHIA LEE

California State Controller Betty Yee was in Fresno on Thursday encouraging Central Valley entrepreneurs to build a healthy business community in the Fresno area that would rival other well-known technology and science hubs in the state.

“You don’t need to be Silicon Valley to look for opportunities,” Yee said as the keynote speaker for the Central Valley Venture Forum, an annual conference for businesses and investors that was held at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.

The event is a collaboration between the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Fresno State Craig School of Business and the Central Valley Fund. It allows entrepreneurs an opportunity to network and learn from angel investors, venture capitalists, business and banking leaders, and elected officials.

Five start-ups also made presentations at the event to a panel of investors in bids for the title of best in show and prospective investments in their businesses.

Yee, whose job is to manage the state’s money and to make sure its bills are paid, shared with attendees a positive report on California’s economic recovery and its future, which is projected to have some job growth, wage increases and increased consumer confidence next year.

But some factors stand in the way of building healthy business communities, she warned, such as the lack of affordable housing in relation to jobs and the lack of access in some communities to the internet, which is considered a tool people need to be successful in the local economy.

The Valley, however, is a desirable place to live because home prices and land prices remain low and the possibility of creating partnerships between businesses, schools and government agencies is high. And the agricultural resources of the region set it apart from the rest of the state, she said.

“I’ve always considered the Central Valley as the heart of the state of California,” Yee said. When you look at “what makes California thrive, there’s so much that comes out of this region, and so much promise that can still come out of this region.”

Yee contends that the Valley could lead the creation of more water-saving technology.

She offered some ways to achieve success. First, is to focus on what Yee calls “our human capital.” That means to “train and attract top talent” for your company. Second is to invest in school science and technology programs and apprenticeships to fill the green jobs of tomorrow.

The Central Valley “has shown to have the guts, the drive and the desire to put in place the structures needed for success.”

Read more HERE