Tour gives glimpse of job-training center planned for Modesto Bee building

Central California

MARCH 1, 2017
The Modesto Bee
By Nan Austin

Cutting-edge plans will breathe new life into the cavernous facility that once printed 95,000 Modesto Bee newspapers a day. But the goal of helping develop the region through information and education continues.

A tour given Tuesday in the industrial back half of the old Bee building – an area speakers described as part aircraft hangar, part prison block – laid out a vision for a flexible training facility geared to supply ready workers for waiting jobs.

Opportunity Stanislaus, an economic development nonprofit, will run business-driven technical training classes. The Stanislaus County Office of Education will hold classes and workforce training through its Come Back Kids charter for adults who dropped out of high school. Around 600 adults attend the school.

A daycare facility is planned for the front of the building, serving trainees’ children while training future preschool workers. The old “Beestro” cafe on the second floor may one day provide a culinary arts classroom, said Scott Kuykendall, SCOE’s head of educational options.

The McClatchy Co. built the building in the 1950s, but sold it in 2011 and leases roughly a quarter of it for Modesto Bee offices and newsroom. The Bee expects to move to another Modesto location this summer.

SCOE, based a block away on H Street, bought the blue-tiled building at 1100 H St. and a nearby parking lot for $6.9 million from 1325 H Street LLC of Hanford. Renovation on the back half of the building will start in August, with classes expected to begin in the fall.

Opportunity Stanislaus is leasing much of what used to house the two-story press, ad-insertion area and newsprint storage. The property has back bays designed for truck loading, and a forklift-carrying elevator rises to the second story. Its 600 amps running downstairs and 400 upstairs can power any number of assembly-line training scenarios.

Standing on a concrete floor built 5 feet thick to hold the press, project manager Jim Mortensen said that for 30 years different efforts had been made in the region to train workers. The time is ripe and the need is great, he told assembled business leaders and educators.

“We need a younger generation to just keep the businesses we have, let alone expand. You’re not going to bring anybody to town when they say, ‘Well, what have you got for skilled labor?’ We don’t. We’re scalping from each other,” Mortensen said. “This is the opportunity we have.”

The VOLT Institute, as Opportunity Stanislaus has named its project, hopes to train 250 students a year, explained Dave White of Opportunity Stanislaus. VOLT stands for Valley Occupational and Learning Technical Institute.

The training sessions will have three parts, he said. The first is two weeks of business “boot camp,” teaching things such as arriving on time and staying off cell phones, that will also act as an employer-screening process. The second will be three weeks of training with tools and basic systems. The third phase will be 10 to 12 weeks of intensive training on specific skills employers have identified as a need.

“When we look back 20 years from now, and we think of all the lives it has touched, all the people who will be going to this center when it’s fully up and running, to gain vocation skills that are absolutely critical to their futures,” said business advisory committee member Rich Coffey. “Also 20 years out from now, we’ll look back at all the business in this area here and all the economic development that will come by way of having a dedicated vocational training center.”

10 things to know – and love – about Fresno

Central California

Posted 4/14/2017 by Bill McEwen
Fresno County
By Bill McEwen

The New York Times put together a quick piece on Fresno this week, pointing out that our town is one of the most affordable places to live in the country.

The story went on to say “the Central Valley’s biggest city has sometimes gotten a bad rap from outsiders. … but to many residents, the problems are no worse than those of other California cities.”

Told about the good ink, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand sounded like Sally Field accepting the 1984 Academy Award for her leading role in “Places in the Heart.”

Brand didn’t actually say “The New York Times loves us!” but he came darn close: “To have the ‘New York Times tell the world about ‘Reasons to Love Fresno’ is something that should make us all proud.”

Along with affordability, The Times cited Fresno’s mid-California location, lively arts scene, CSU campus, abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, growing tech economy and potential link to San Francisco and Los Angeles via “the new bullet train.”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg – not that Fresno has any of those. Here are other tidbits and opinions about the city where six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald was raised:

1. If you are thinking of moving to Fresno and like what you see, odds are greater you will land in Clovis next door. While Fresno is America’s 34th largest city with a population of 520,052 and has grown 5.13 percent since the 2010 census, Clovis – the nation’s 287th largest city – has grown nearly 9 percent since 2010. Its population is 104,180.

2. Fresno politics are complicated by water (more specifically by the lack of sufficient supplies to completely irrigate the fertile soil surrounding the city.) Thus if you want to hold your own in any debate, you best bone up on the delta smelt, the Endangered Species Act, subsidence, and the water pumps in the Delta north of Fresno. Then read “Cadillac Desert” for good measure.

Don’t believe – even for a second – that saying “why don’t the farmers, the environmentalists and the regulators all get in the same room and work something out?” will win you a Nobel Peace Prize. Folks have been saying that for 50 years, and it’s never happened.

3. Keeping with politics: Although Fresno County is one of the most conservative places in California, it has more registered Democrats than Republicans. So color us purple. Whether conservative or liberal, many Fresnans gravitate to the extremes. If you are a moderate, expect to hear someone call you “a spineless sellout.”

4. Are tacos your favorite food? Then get-to ASAP. We have the best tacos on the planet. That’s my assessment, anyway, and a good place to start feasting is at La Elegante, a Food Network favorite.

Another smart bet is El Premio Mayor, two-time defending champion of the annual TacoTruck Throwdown. Alton Brown, of the “Eat Your Science” and “Edible Inevitable” tours, threw some love El Premio Mayor’s way last month.

5. As everyone who parachutes in and writes about Fresno observes, it’s just a few hours away from the beach, the mountains, Los Angeles and San Francisco. But you don’t have to leave Fresno to have a good time.

The Save Mart Center hosts the biggest names in music – think Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Blake Shelton, Selena Gomez, Bruno Mars – and the city has many smaller music venues. Like other cities its size, Fresno has a symphony orchestra and a regular schedule of touring Broadway shows.

Fresno also has Good Company Players, a theater company that has entertained people and graduated young performers to Hollywood and Broadway since 1973. It represents the spirit of Fresno at its best. Evidence of that comes from these two sentences on the Good Company Players website:

“We believe that the performing arts keeps us civilized; teaching us to think and express ourselves coherently, to hear and respect other perspectives, to appreciate beauty and live a little more compassionately. We believe that theatre is a team sport and unites performers, technicians, writers and audience members at every performance in a common goal – to understand humanity a little better.”

6. Interested in wine-making as a career? Enroll at Fresno State. Its viticulture and enology students learn their craft on a campus with a 140-acre vineyard and bonded winery. And the university’s graduates occupy top positions in the industry throughout the country and the world.

Think about how a conversation might go:

“Well, young lady, how’s college going?”

“Really well.”

“And what are you studying – economics, psychology, business, engineering?”

“I am going for my master’s in enology.

“What in tarnation is that, some kind of liberal studies program?”

“It’s wine-making.”

“Let me know when you’re done and I’ll buy the first case.”

7. From the end of February to the middle of March, the Blossom Trail erupts in colors that will simultaneously excite and soothe you. The beautifully manicured orchards are a photographer’s dream.

People come from all over California and points well beyond to see the white citrus, plum, apple and almond blossoms, and the pink peach, apricot and nectarine blossoms. Bike it or drive it. Either way, you’ll have a great time.

8. Sooner or later, someone will bring up crime and paint Fresno as the homicide capital of America. The reality is that Fresno’s crime rate is similar to most big cities in California.

Central Valley’s largest cities fairly good places to start a business

Central Valley

Posted 5/1/2017
by Central Valley Business Times

•  Fresno in top third of cities studied

•  Bakersfield, Stockton close behind

Among the nation’s 150 largest cities, Central Valley cities are fairly good places to start a business, suggests a new study by the personal-finance website WalletHub, a unit of Evolution Finance Inc., of Washington, D.C.

The study ranks Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, as the best location, followed by Salt Lake City, Utah; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The bottom five have Seattle at 150th and then Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Vancouver, Washington; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Providence, Rhode Island.

The Central Valley, so often at the bottom of such “best places” lists, actually does middling well, according to WalletHub.

When it comes to starting a business, Fresno ranks 45th overall, followed by Bakersfield at 52nd and Stockton at 69th. Sacramento comes in at 114th out of 150.

Fresno, Bakersfield and Stockton are ranked second, third and fourth in the nation for “highest availability of human capital,” a positive in the WalletHub calculations.

Merced among fastest-growing counties in the state, report says

Central California

MARCH 16, 2017
The Merced Sun Star

A growing UC Merced footprint and one of the youngest populations in the state put Merced County in the third spot for fasting growing counties in California, according to the latest growth projections from the state Department of Finance.

The state’s report, released this month, also projects that Madera and Kern counties will be among the state’s 10 fastest-growing counties by mid-century. The three counties trail only Yolo, the report says.

Merced County’s population is projected to grow by nearly 68 percent between 2015 and 2060, reaching 452,519 residents. If the state’s estimates prove accurate in other parts of the state, Kern will overtake Fresno in the 10th most populated county by 2052.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that UC Merced’s next phase of growth is expected to bring new people to Merced and be an economic driver in the region, but there’s another reason for growth, according to Walter Schwarm, a demographer at the Department of Finance.

67.8 percent      

Merced County’s projected to growth between 2015 and 2060

Scwarm said that Merced’s relatively young population means the county has a higher-than-average birth rate.

“There’s still fairly healthy growth in the number of children in Merced. That contributes differentially relative to the other counties.”

High housing prices along the coast and in the north part of the state – and a reluctance to build more there to meet the demand – will continue to push more people inland, including those who live in the Valley but commute for better-paying jobs, he said.

That growth, fueled in part by cheap land and relatively inexpensive housing compared to the state’s coastal areas, likely will mean more traffic and wear-and-tear on the region’s roads, said Tony Boren, executive director of the Fresno Council of Governments, a regional planning agency.

Keeping up with the additional vehicles and pounding they’ll bring to Valley roads will be an ongoing challenge for transportation planners, Boren said. With the state trying to encourage more use of public transit and alternate modes of transportation, like bicycles, Boren said the region is in a constant battle with the state over dollars to keep needed roads in good repair.

The trip from farm to market starts on a county road and continues on a state highway – and it takes vehicles to move the goods. “You’re not going to get a ton of raisins to market on the back of a bicycle,” Boren said.

Growth effects aren’t just going to be felt in Merced County. According to the state’s projections, Madera County – whose population was estimated at 154,956 in 2015 – could hit 262,065 residents by 2060. Fresno County’s population could grow from 979,357 to 1.46 million by 2060.

More broadly, the state projects several notable trends: California will become older, more Hispanic, and likely to join the ranks of Japan and some European countries that have more deaths than births. Migration is expected to keep California’s population growing.

But growth won’t be universal – or even. Counties in the northeast corner of California are expected to continue losing population. Coastal California will see growth slow as more people move into the inland regions like the Central Valley and inland Southern California.


The projected population of Merced County in 2060

About 14 percent of California’s population is 65 or older. By 2060, that could grow to 26 percent. In Merced County, the 65 and older crowd will grow from about 10.6 percent in 2015 to nearly 18.5 percent by 2060.

For years, baby boomers kept the state’s population skewing younger than the national average. Now they’re reaching Social Security age, and that’s pulling the average higher at a rate faster than the rest of the country, the Department of Finance said.

Officials won’t know how accurate such long-term projections are until 2060. Projections four decades out are based on current conditions, according to Bill Schooling, chief of demographic research at the Department of Finance. Past projections sometimes have been spot-on, while other times have been well off of the mark, particularly when unanticipated changes occur.

“You can be misled,” he said.

Economic impact continues to grow at Port of Stockton

Central California

Posted Feb 20, 2017
The Recorder
By Joe Goldeen


Anyone who travels Interstate 5 past downtown Stockton and looks west is well aware of the Port of Stockton with its massive, odd-shaped structures and, if you’re lucky, an ocean-going ship unloading at the docks.

But it didn’t take much to get lucky in 2016, with 232 ships sailing into the port — the second-highest number in the past six years, according to longtime Port Director Rick Aschieris.

“We’ve really grown to be an important part of the economic foundation of not just Stockton but San Joaquin County and this whole part of Northern California,” Aschieris said.

For many years, the port has stood as the reliable engine of commerce for Stockton, most recently supporting some 5,500 jobs around the county that generate approximately $180 million in salaries and benefits.

After 84 years of serving ocean-going vessels — the SS Daisy Gray was the first to arrive with a load of lumber on Feb. 2, 1933 — the port has served as the city’s window to the world ever since, increasing its trade relationships to more than 55 countries.

The products that come through the port — while typically not those used every day by your average consumer — play a critical role in the region and the entire West. More than 90 percent of all the fertilizer — both dry bulk and liquid fertilizers — used in the agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley comes through the port.

Another product, cement, had come back strong in the past couple of years.

“In 2014, we had six cement ships. This past year, we had 20,” Aschieris said. “That’s a lot of cement.”

And while the volume of one product — low-sulfur coal — has decreased significantly (down about 1 million tons in the past one or two years), the increased volume in steel imports is filling the void.

“We had more steel ships than anything else this past year; 43 steel ships coming from a variety of places in Asia, primarily Japan and Korea,” Aschieris said.

Mostly, the loads consist of 480-foot-long rails that go directly to a port-based facility operated by Union Pacific Railroad where three of them are welded together to create super-long rails more than four football fields long with just two welds that are shipped out via rail throughout the Western United States.

“That’s a good project that has been operating for over a full year now,” Aschieris said.

Heading outbound, the Valley’s rice farmers shipped just under 160 tons of bagged rice to Japan, about the same as last year but significantly more than two years ago.

The port has continued to work on major infrastructure projects that improve its roadways and rail lines for greater efficiency. That got a major boost recently with the completion of the mile-long extension of the Crosstown Freeway to Navy Drive, taking trucks away from the Boggs Tract residential neighborhood.

It also completed dredging the channel down to 35 feet along the docks on Rough and Ready Island, matching the depth of the Stockton Deep Water Channel for the first time since the port acquired the island from the federal government in 2000.

Aschieris also noted that private investment in the port has not slackened in recent years. Since the economic downturn of the past decade, more than $2 billion in private-sector investment has been made in port properties.

“It’s not dramatic, but it’s positive,” he said.

Continuing that trend, he said he is involved in different stages of negotiating a number of leases that, if they all work out, could add up to another $1.5 billion in new projects at the port over the next four to five years.

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

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