Merced County is developing a 2,000-acre auto tech center for Silicon Valley’s self-driving cars

Jul 31, 2017
by Jody Meacham
Silicon Valley Business Journal.

Merced County is in the process of developing a 2,000-acre site encompassing the former Castle Air Force Base, which it hopes will become the center for testing, development and manufacturing of automotive technology, including for many of the self-driving cars being developed in Silicon Valley.

Adam Wasserman, managing partner of Scottsdale, Arizona-based GLDPartners, which consults with international companies on optimizing their supply chains, said the project expects to announce its first tenant — likely linked to Silicon Valley’s R&D efforts on autonomous driving R&D — by early fall.

Google is already using a site adjacent to Merced County’s planned Mid-California AutoTech Testing, Development and Production Campus for its self-driving car testing. (photo courtesy of Google Inc).

Google is already using a 91-acre site for its own autonomous car testing program adjacent to the planned Mid-California AutoTech Testing, Development and Production Campus, county officials said.

At full build-out, the development plan calls for 8 million square feet of industrial space employing about 9,300 people.

“It just puts us on that technology map that everybody in Silicon Valley is enjoying,” said Daron McDaniel, chair of the county’s board of supervisors.

Merced County hired GLDPartners after several failed attempts to commercialize the Castle property, which it took ownership of in 2006 following the air base’s 1995 closure.

The county’s median family income was about $43,000 in 2016, about 80 percent of the national median, and about a quarter of its 262,000 residents live below the poverty line, according to census figures.

Before settling on auto technology, the company researched several other business sectors including food production, medical products, commercial space systems, industrial machines and specialty chemicals based on how they might fit in those sectors’ supply chains.

“The project takes advantage of the dire lack of testing facilities anywhere in the country, much less in California, where much of the research that is shaping the global auto industry is now taking place,” Wasserman wrote in an email.

The site works because of the concentration of international auto tech research in Silicon Valley, the proximity of Bay Area universities and 13-year-old UC Merced, which is forecast to double its enrollment to 14,000 students within three years and already has solar energy and drone facilities at Castle.

That is coupled with transportation infrastructure including an airfield capable of handling the largest cargo planes and two major railroads connected to ports in Stockton and Oakland so that the site can handle manufacturing as well as testing.

The county is securing $200 million to connect the site to State Route 99 by a road to be called the Atwater-Merced Expressway.

“We strongly believe — and it’s obviously been evidenced by Google and the work they do onsite with their autonomous vehicle program — we’re going to be incredibly competitive in the auto tech sector,” said Mark Hendrickson, the county’s economic development director.

Part of the site was originally pitched by the county to California high-speed rail officials for the system’s heavy maintenance facility, which is to be located in the San Joaquin Valley, but McDaniel said there has been no indication when they would make a decision.

“If high-speed rail wants us they need to pull the trigger right away,” he said.

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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