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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AEMTEK Opens Lab in Central Valley

AEMTEK, a highly esteemed food safety laboratory, and analytical services provider, is opening a new location in Modesto. This facility will bring food safety testing closer to current and future clients in the Central Valley.

Doors Open to AEMTEK’s Modesto Location

AEMTEK will open the doors of its new Central Valley location in Modesto on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022.The new laboratory is located off Kiernan Ave and 108, on Spyres Way. The facility features state-of-the-art equipment to provide companies with routine food safety testing, environmental monitoring testing and consultation, and research services including shelf life, challenge, and validation studies. Dr. Florence Wu, President of AEMTEK Inc., highlighted the importance of AEMTEK’s mission of providing accurate, fast, and reliable services to the region’s food companies. She said that “Food companies rely on AEMTEK’s testing results to make actionable decisions. Operating in Modesto will take us closer to our Central Valley clients, improve turnaround time, and facilitate more client-focused services.”

Serving the Central Valley

The new laboratory will serve the Central Valley food manufacturing community and provide new sample pick-up services to the Modesto, Stockton, Sacramento, and Merced regions. Keeping in line with AEMTEK’s mission, this new laboratory will employ the same focus on data accuracy, fast TATs, and industry-leading customer service for which AEMTEK has been recognized amongst its clients for nearly 20 years. An experienced team of Ph.D. scientists and microbiologists is excited to partner with food manufacturers of the Central Valley to help them achieve their food safety goals and keep the community safe. AEMTEK’s goal is to empower its clients across the U.S. to achieve top-notch food safety programs. The new Central Valley location will allow more companies in the Northern California Area and beyond to benefit from AEMTEK’s unparalleled services.

Private Lab Tours

To celebrate the grand opening, AEMTEK invites new and prospective clients to schedule a private tour of the new facility. To schedule a tour of the laboratory, complete this form. AEMTEK’s Central Valley laboratory will be open Monday – Friday 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM, with weekend and holiday analysis available upon prior notice. The laboratory will begin accepting samples at this location after its grand opening.


Robinson’s Interiors is moving to a bigger Fresno location, affiliating with Carpet One Floor & Home and having its new grand opening June 4. The company, currently operating as Robinson’s Flooring in River Park, has served flooring customers in the Fresno area since 2009. “We had been looking to become a Carpet One store in Fresno for a number of years,” said Luke Robinson, who manages the store with his brother, Jake Robinson. “When the territory became available, we applied.” Jake added, “We had outgrown our location in Fresno, so the time was ripe to move to a bigger building as well.” They purchased the former Allied Linoleum & Carpet business at 292 W Herndon Ave.

This location and new affiliation will allow them to hire more staff, including in-house labor, and bring in the Carpet One brands. “There’s no better carpet than Relax it’s Lees,” said Jake. “And with the bigger showroom, customers can see, feel, and touch more samples.” Robinson’s Interiors began in Hanford when their father, Mike Robinson, rented a warehouse in downtown Hanford for $35 and a handshake. That was 1980. Since then the Hanford location has served both residential and commercial customers, including large institutions. In the early ‘90s, Mike was frustrated with what he termed the “Wild West” of the flooring business, where too many people were “shooting from the hip.” He was looking for better ways to serve his customers. He noticed some of his contacts, whom he respected, were Carpet One members. He investigated and determined Carpet One was a good fit for his business. Jake recalled his father saying, “They were good people who wanted to do good work.” When Mike opened Robinson’s Flooring in Fresno in 2009, he was unable to open under the Carpet One umbrella because it was unavailable.

Today, there are about 1,100 stores in the co-op, making it the largest co-op in the world. Because they buy under one account, they get significant discounts which are passed on to customers. That means Carpet One stores compete on price with big box stores. Jake added that Carpet One also provides members with access to superior products, state-of-the-art product knowledge, systems, and marketing. He noted the importance of the difference between a co-op and a franchise. “As a co-op we have a lot of resources, but very few requirements. We can be creative.” Mike Robinson passed in 2019, but the family is carrying on the business. Robinson’s Interiors is family-owned and community involvement is important. Their most recent project involved building beds for needy children so they don’t have to sleep on the floor.

New Hampton by Hilton Opens Near Yosemite National Park

Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite welcomed its first guests on Thursday, May 19. The property is among a complement of three hotels owned and operated by OTO Development, part of The Johnson Group, near Yosemite National Park.The hotels — this Hampton by Hilton, a Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott and a Holiday Inn Express & Suites — are adjacent to each other along CA-41, just 13 short miles from Yosemite’s south gate.Noteworthy for its easy proximity to Yosemite National Park, Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite is an hour closer to the 1,169-square-mile natural attraction than any other Hilton property. It combines convenient access with the consistent service, accommodations and amenities guests have come to expect from the Hilton brand.“People are drawn to all the many natural wonders of Yosemite National Park,” says Corry Oakes, CEO of OTO Development. “They want to be surprised and delighted by the outside world, but they don’t want any surprises inside their hotel. That’s the value Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite brings to the market: a reliable, best-in-class experience every time, backed by the 100% Hampton Guarantee.”

Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite comprises 111 guest rooms intuitively designed for both function and comfort. On-site amenities include an indoor pool, a well-equipped fitness room, a 24/7 market and a guest laundry facility. For business travelers, there’s a business center and boardroom. A hot, complimentary breakfast is served every morning.“We are pleased to offer three popular brand options to the 4.5 million people who come to Yosemite every year,” Oakes says. “Visitors can make the most of the park’s activities and attractions, such as two wild and scenic rivers, waterfalls, granite cliffs and ancient giant sequoias, then relax back at their favorite, familiar hotel.”

The leadership team at Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite includes Stephanie Casillas and Richard Garwood, Assistant General Managers; Steve Tarn, Regional Director of Operations; Jennifer Mooradian, Director of Operation Support; Carla Tenenbaum, Regional Director of Sales; Lauren Hartman, Area Director of Sales; and Maygen Brown, Complex Sales Manager.OTO Development purchased Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite from a family of independent hoteliers while the property was still under construction. OTO previously acquired Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Oakhurst Yosemite and Holiday Inn Express & Suites Oakhurst-Yosemite Park Area, which are next door to the new Hampton by Hilton. The seller was represented by Stanley Wang of Marcus & Millichap.

Hampton Inn Oakhurst-Yosemite is located at 40740 CA-41 in Oakhurst, California.

Ono Hawaiian BBQ says Aloha in Visalia

One of America’s fastest growing restaurant chains will celebrate its 100th location with the opening of its newest store in Visalia. Say “Aloha” to Ono Hawaiian BBQ. The Hawaiian-inspired fast-casual restaurant will celebrate the milestone at the grand opening of its Visalia store, 708 S. Mooney Blvd., all-day long on Friday, April 22. There will be an in-store luau for their customers to enjoy a taste of the Islands, including Hawaiian dancers showcasing and celebrating authentic Hawaiian culture and spirit. There will be deals and giveaways, including a buy one get one free offering both in-store and online. Ono Hawaiian BBQ will also be giving away 100th Store Memorabilia pins and scratchers at all locations while supplies last.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to be opening our 100th Ono BBQ location and celebrating this milestone,” said Joshua Liang, Chief Executive Officer. “This achievement would not be possible without our loyal customers who’ve shown their love for our food and brand.” “Ono” means “delicious” in Hawaiian, and the restaurant has maintained its reputation for nearly two decades as the Hawaiian fast casual staple since being founded in 2002. The menu includes everything from mini meals to family-style servings. Every Ono Hawaiian BBQ dish is created with fresh ingredients using authentic Hawaiian recipes, and made-to-order in each restaurant. “Island Favorites” include chicken Katsu, Kalua pork, white fish, crispy shrimp and grilled spam and eggs.

The restaurant’s popularity continues to grow throughout California and Hawaii. The restaurant was recently ranked sixth in a Top 10 list of the fastest growing chains compiled last year by Technomic, a food service industry research firm. The ranking reported the Hawaiian barbecue restaurants had 2020 sales totalling $146 million. Ono opened its 98th location in Delano, Calif. In November.

New Valley Amazon warehouse aims to bring faster deliveries

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — A new Amazon warehouse is expected to be up and running in Fresno by the end of the year. The facility is being described as a ‘last mile’ warehouse, helping get all those goodies we buy to our homes.The goal is to get products to your doorstep faster, and residents welcome the new warehouse and the jobs it will bring. The new location will be built on Clovis and Olive avenues where the former Sunnyside Drive-in used to be, and it’s expected to operate 24/7 and employ about 550 people. “I think it’s a great opportunity, it’s an organization that supplies jobs for skilled workers as well as unskilled workers,” said Trent Walley, Lead Pastor of Harmony Church.

This new facility will focus on delivery operations. The so-called “last mile” items will arrive at the new Clovis building from Amazon warehouses around the nation and quickly be sorted for delivery to customers. From there, it’s into Amazon vans or in some cases, private contractors who use their own vehicles for deliveries like Instacart or DoorDash. It all adds up to faster shipping for customers and also potentially more traffic on the roads, but neighboring churches say it shouldn’t be a problem. “Most of their in and out traffic is going to be on Olive, which is already a four-lane with a center turn lane in it, so the infrastructure is there,” explained Walley.

The Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board has worked with Amazon before, and they expect an influx of interest once the warehouse is closer to completion. “We have a lot of businesses talking about labor shortage. I definitely would say that this is a really good time for folks that may be on the fence about whether or not they should apply,” said Martha Espinosa, Marketing and Grant Manager with the Fresno Workforce Development Board. With orders and demand not expected to slow down, positions that may not have been an option for some before are now becoming vacant. “Now they are trying to get it there even faster, so people, they want it now. Even though they are ordering it online, it’s nice to have it now,” added Walley. “A lot of companies are providing opportunities for folks that may not have qualified for certain jobs, so I would definitely say, throw your hat in the ring,” said Espinosa. Amazon did not want to comment on this project just yet, telling Action News to expect an announcement in the coming weeks.

Dalfen Industrial Acquires Central Valley Property

Dalfen Industrial has acquired a 417,600 square foot industrial building in Lathrop, CA – a submarket within East Bay’s Central Valley. The opportunity was sourced off-market and is 100% occupied with an additional 10.85 acres of prime developable land. The property has a strategic last mile location with close proximity to I-5 as well as the Port of Stockton and the Union Pacific and BNSF Railroads. This location offers access to over 839,000 people within a 30-minute drive with a population that is growing at a rate 47% faster than the national average. Other companies in the area include Home Depot, Wayfair, Tesla, Amazon, DHL and Kraft.

“Strong growth dynamics in this region have resulted in increasing industrial demand, making this a great addition to our west coast portfolio,” said Rich Weiss, Market Officer for Dalfen. “The Central Valley is a major west coast distribution hub with same-day delivery capabilities to nearly 46 million people between San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas, and all the cities in between.”

“This acquisition exemplifies our continued focus of adding strategically located west coast industrial assets to our portfolio in order to bolster our last mile fulfillment center footprint in the region” markets.” said Sean Dalfen, President and Chief Investment Officer at Dalfen Industrial. In 2021, Dalfen Industrial has acquired and developed $2.3 billion in industrial properties.

Major auto parts center heads to Chowchilla, promising nearly 300 new jobs.

Chowchilla is slated to host a new distribution center for AutoZone, Inc., bringing with it hundreds of new jobs to the city, the company announced Thursday. Construction isn’t scheduled to start until summer of 2022. But when it does, more than 280 new jobs in the Madera County region will follow, according to an AutoZone news release. “We are very excited for this new development and what it means for the City of Chowchilla and the people who live here,” said Chowchilla Mayor John Chavez in a city news release. “We needed a way to create new jobs for the community, so they do not have to commute outside our city for work, and they can spend more time with their families.”

A capital investment of approximately $150 million is earmarked for the project. The distribution center is expected to open in Chowchilla in 2024, the AutoZone release said. According to AutoZone, construction on the distribution center is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2022 for a projected opening in 2024. “We are thankful and applaud AutoZone for recognizing Chowchilla’s potential with a large development such as this one; it is a welcomed addition to our community,” said City of Chowchilla Administrator Rod Pruett in the city release.

AutoZone currently has over 640 stores across California. The company operates over 6,000 stores nationwide and more than 600 in Mexico, as well as over 50 in Brazil, according to the release, making it the leading retailer and distributor of automotive replacement parts and accessories in the Americas. “During our process to identify our next distribution center location, Chowchilla’s leadership team has been amazing and has helped solidify our decision to come to and be an integral part of this great community,” said Bill Rhodes, Chairman, President, and CEO of AutoZone. “Our significant investment in Chowchilla represents our commitment to always putting our customers first and is an important part of our strategy for accelerated growth.”

Merced County kicks off $2.1M expansion on research and test site for autonomous vehicles

Construction kicked off this month on a planned $2.1 million expansion of an autonomous vehicle research and testing site at Castle Commerce Center. The new expansion will allow vehicle manufacturers, suppliers and innovators to utilize test areas that mimic real-world highway, rural and urban landscapes, according to a Merced County news release. County officials have touted Castle’s proximity to Silicon Valley and expansive open space as a boon for tech companies like Google that have used the facility to test self-driving vehicles for some years.

“This site embodies the future of transportation, and these technology developments are taking place right in our backyards,” Merced County Supervisor Daron McDaniel, whose district encompasses Castle Commerce Center, said in the release. “This project represents real-time job growth and economic development, with enormous potential as it continues to grow.”

Formerly called the California AutoTech Testing and Development Center, the 225-acre site has been renamed to TRC California for Transportation Research Center Inc., for the Ohio-based corporation that assumed facility operations earlier this year. A long-term goal for county officials was to pass facility management to a private third party expert that would take operations to the cutting edge of the developing autonomous vehicle industry. TRC is a leader in automotive testing and innovation that has led the facility’s design improvements, according to the release. “We are building out TRC California to offer a comprehensive, one-stop shop where automotive technology and mobility innovators can test and affirm the performance, safety, quality and competitiveness of new technologies that are changing the face of transportation worldwide,” Brett Roubinek, president and CEO of TRC Inc., said in the release. “TRC is proud to partner with Merced County in this transformation.” A 2 mile high-speed test track is the subject of the current construction phase by Central Valley-based Avision Construction. Installation of privacy fencing along the perimeter, vehicle barriers and security improvements for confidentiality purposes are also in progress.

Del Taco Strengthens Presence in Central California With New Multi-Unit Franchise Deal

Del Taco Restaurants, Inc. (NASDAQ: TACO), the nation’s second largest Mexican quick service restaurant*, announced today a new franchising partnership with Bangars Management, led by Prabh Singh and Mandeep Bangar that will add five new restaurants to the Fresno, Calif market. “We’ve been in the restaurant and retail industry for decades and have seen great success owning and operating scalable QSR restaurants and various convenience stores, particularly in the Central Valley. After months of research, we’ve found that Del Taco is a perfect partner to diversify our portfolio, which is something we’ve wanted to do for quite some time,” says Singh, Vice President of Bangars Management. “Del Taco’s emphasis on fresh, quality ingredients served in a quick and convenient format fits with our standards and ideals and we are thrilled to kick off this partnership.”

Singh and Bangar have more than 35 years of experience in the industry, having worked their way up through the family business ranks to ultimately lead the company which specializes in restaurant foodservice, fuel/convenience and real estate and property development. By partnering with Del Taco on an initial development agreement for five locations, the franchise duo will be the first to bring the brand’s new Fresh Flex look to the Fresno area. “Bangars Management has a proven history of success with owning and operating multiple quick service concepts and leading those concepts to become the top in their category,” said Jeff Little, SVP of Development. “They value their people, love what our fresh quality brand is all about and have a dedication to customer service just as we do at Del Taco, making us the perfect fit for their growing company. We’re proud to have partnered with them and are looking forward to seeing them expand the Del Taco footprint within the Central Valley.”

Del Taco’s unique QSR+ positioning within the Mexican quick-service segment presents great growth potential for experienced multi-unit operators and private equity firms looking to diversify portfolios. With development areas open across the U.S., Del Taco is continuing to seek multi-unit operators who are looking for the opportunity to claim a territory and grow alongside the company.