Connecticut based holding company Atlas Holdings announced Tuesday that it has acquired Foster Farms, the 83-year-old poultry giant based in Livingston. Foster Farms’ has multiple facilities in the Central Valley, including Fresno, Kerman, Turlock, Caruthers and Porterville. The company, which generates revenues of approximately $3 billion annually, will still operate under the Foster Farms name. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Foster Farms has major processing facilities in California, Washington, Louisiana, Oregon and Alabama and has more than 10,000 employees. Along with news of the acquisition, Atlas also announced that Donnie Smith, former CEO of Tyson Foods from 2009 to 2016, is Foster Farms’ new CEO and chairman. “I love the poultry industry and am proud that Atlas has asked me to become the CEO of Foster Farms,” said Smith. “I’ve long been an admirer of the Foster Family and the business they’ve built over the past eight decades. In this new era, we will maintain and further that legacy, rooted in animal welfare, superior product quality, customer service and community engagement.”

Rail Academy will train Valley youth for well-paying jobs on passenger, freight lines

Christian Sharma hopes to be among the first graduates of the Rail Academy of Central California, ready to work on a freight or passenger line. “I would mainly like to get behind the wheel of a locomotive,” the 18-year-old said at a May 25 open house in Stockton. “And help to maintain it, checking to see that it’s up to date.” The program will launch with about 70 students in August. They will take classes at a community college and get hands-on learning at the Stockton maintenance facility for the Altamont Corridor Express. The Rail Academy will provide up to two years of low-cost instruction for jobs starting at as much as $95,000 a year, the organizers said.

The alumni could help ACE and Amtrak carry out plans to grow well beyond their current passenger services. Or they could join a freight workforce that moves an already enormous volume of goods on the tracks. “In order for our expansion to be successful, we need the bodies to operate the trains, and to serve our public,” said Tamika Smith, director of rail services for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission. That agency oversees ACE, which mainly serves commuters to Silicon Valley with four round trips each weekday. Amtrak has five round trips every day between Bakersfield and Oakland and a sixth branching north to Sacramento. AA Rail Academy 01.JPGPeople gathered at the Altamont Corridor Express maintenance facility for an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility.
Stanislaus students, others welcome. The educational partners are based in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties, but students from Stanislaus and beyond are welcome, Smith said.

The academy will begin with classes at Sacramento City College that prepare students to be engineers, conductors and passenger service agents. The planners hope at some point to add degrees in train and track maintenance at San Joaquin Delta College. The ACE facility hosted the open house and will be a key part of the academy going forward. It is about a mile and a half north of a station serving both ACE and Amtrak. The staff mainly services the commuter trains but is also preparing a new fleet of Amtrak coaches. The 157,000-square-foot site has several tracks for locomotives and passenger coaches, along with pits for working on their undersides. Two training rooms can hold up to 60 students.

Students will pay community college fees but can apply for financial aid. The academy aims to reach underrepresented communities and students not headed toward bachelor’s degrees, Smith said. It also will help the freight and passenger partners replace employees lost to retirement, she said. AA Rail Academy 05.JPGPeople gathered at the Altamont Corridor Express maintenance facility for an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility.

Head start for high-schoolers. The academy will have a program introducing high school students to rail careers through an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District. They will tour the maintenance facility and talk with rail workers. Sharma came to the open house on the evening before his graduation from Edison High School. He said he already enjoyed researching rail history from the steam era on and hopes to be part of the future workforce. That history is one of the community college courses, including the decline of passenger rail after World War II. Other classes will instruct students on safe and efficient operation of today’s trains. An entire course is devoted to the air brakes that can bring a mile-long freight train to a standstill.

The academy partners include Herzog Transit Services, which runs ACE under contract and is based in St. Joseph, Missouri. Another is the Union Pacific Railroad, based in Omaha and carrying freight across much of the United States. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway is not involved in the academy but is hiring, too, in the Central Valley and elsewhere. AA Rail Academy 04.JPGPeople gathered at the Altamont Corridor Express maintenance facility for an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility.

Expanding toward high-speed rail. ACE and Amtrak are expanding with $900.5 million from state fuel taxes. Amtrak plans to add two trips on its northern branch by 2024, sharing stations with ACE in Lodi, Elk Grove and four Sacramento locations. ACE also will have a southern extension by 2024, with downtown stations in Manteca, Ripon, Modesto and Ceres. Service to Turlock, Livingston and Merced will follow in a few years. Future funding could bring hourly service at up to 130 mph, using tracks separate from freight trains and possibly a tunnel through the Altamont Pass. Valley residents would connect much more easily than they do now with BART and other systems.

The diesel locomotives would give way to renewable electricity under long-range plans for countering climate change. ACE and Amtrak also could connect in Merced with the first segment of California’s high-speed rail system. It would run at up to 220 mph to Bakersfield as soon as 2029 under current plans. The project continues to draw criticism due to cost overruns, construction delays and the high price of tunneling to Southern California and the Bay Area. The commission that oversees ACE is already negotiating to run the first leg of high-speed rail. It is chaired by Christina Fugazi, the vice mayor of Stockton. She also is vice principal at Edison High and invited some of the local students to the open house. “If we want to do more trains per day, we need more conductors, we need more engineers, we need more people to clean the trains, maintain the trains,” Fugazi said.

AA Rail Academy 02.JPGTechnicians Sebastian Eth, left, and Nick Fortune, right, demonstrate some of the work that is done at the Altamont Corridor Express maintenance facility during an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility. AA Rail Academy 03.JPGAltamont Corridor Express maintenance facility in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. AA Rail Academy 06.jpgChristina Fugazi, chair of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission board, speaks to guests, with Edison High senior Christian Sharma, right, during an open house to announce the creation of the Rail Academy of Central California in Stockton, Calif., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. The program will launch in August, with classroom training at a community college and hands-on work at the ACE maintenance facility.

Bakersfield launches first-of-its-kind youth workforce program as part of state effort

For the first time ever, the city of Bakersfield will be offering internships and job opportunities tailored for local teenagers and college students in an attempt to spur interest in local government and address relatively high youth unemployment. Starting Friday, the city plans to release applications for summer internships, which will be available to local high school students. Other programs in its workforce development program include a yearlong college fellowship, an eight-week parks mobile team and another internship program based on the needs of the Kern Community Foundation and the Dream Resource Center. The city successfully applied for a roughly $5.4 million Californians For All Workforce Development grant, which will provide funds for the new positions. “The city’s No. 1 goal here is to get youth interested in public service and community service. We have a number of jobs here at the city of Bakersfield that are open, and it’s really an exciting time to work for the city of Bakersfield thanks to Measure N and many of the new initiatives that the city is starting,” said Anthony Valdez, assistant to the city manager. “We want to inspire this generation to be interested in public service.”

The Kern Community Foundation will manage the program for the city, and plans to expand from four to eight employees in order to handle the workload. The local nonprofit plans to target underserved areas and those who have had run-ins with the criminal justice system in its outreach. “We’re going to be giving these youngsters opportunities to look at maybe careers that they didn’t think about and things that are going to benefit the city in general,” said foundation President and CEO Aaron Falk. “I wish that in high school somebody had pulled me aside and said, ‘Did you know you can get an associate’s degree from BC and then get a six-figure job?’ I don’t think anybody is telling kids that.” The workforce development program comes at a time of high youth unemployment in Bakersfield. According to data provided by the city, teenagers aged 16 to 19 had a 25.6 percent unemployment rate in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available. Those aged 16 and over had a 7.6 percent unemployment rate in Bakersfield, compared to a statewide rate of 6.2 percent and a national rate of 5.4 percent. “The need is high to engage and employ youth and also get them excited about public and community service,” Valdez said. “We want youth to be inspired from Bakersfield to stay in Bakersfield and see themselves in careers and community and public service jobs that pay well, are stable and come with great benefits.”

The state’s 13 biggest cities were eligible to receive funding, but smaller cities and counties will also become involved in the project’s second phase. State leaders hope to tackle some of the most difficult issues facing California while providing youth with job opportunities and a career pathway to government service, in addition to at least a $15 per hour wage. Many of the new jobs across the state will focus on issues like climate change, homelessness and food insecurity. The $185 million program, paid for by federal coronavirus relief money, is expected to employ thousands of youth over the next several years. “We think what’s unique is that we are really focusing on a population that has either been excluded or doesn’t have these kinds of opportunities,” said Josh Fryday, California’s chief service officer, a position in the governor’s office. “We think that by focusing on that population and really making sure that we’re doing work that is focused on the community, that we’re doing something that is going to add value to everyone.”

The city hopes to hire 400 youth by 2026, when the program will have completed. “We have the opportunity to demonstrate that by investing in our young people, we can help them launch a meaningful and purposeful life, while also tackling our biggest issues,” Fryday said. “If we can do all of that together at the same time, I think we’re going to demonstrate a really important model for this work moving forward.”

Inland Port concept to flow more trade to Central Valley, cut pollution

A collaborative consortium of California port authorities, county governments, transportation agencies, air pollution control districts have joined forces to analyze the feasibility of developing a new, intermodal rail spine to connect seaports to key markets via the Central Valley. The plan is to develop a network of three or four “Inland Ports” in Central Valley cities with built-in access to freight rail and trucking routes. By developing a better intermodal system of moving freight, where trucks are used to transport cargo containers from ships to rail and then from rail to their destination instead of driving across the state, the project promises to cut greenhouse gasses, significantly improve air quality, reduce road congestion, boost traffic safety, and advance California’s extraordinarily large intra-state freight movement system. “Given the scale of California’s market, its geographic proximity, and its seaport infrastructure, the California Inland Port would become a nationally significant logistics and economic development project; a key to advancing California’s ambitious climate, economy, and equity goals which could then be modeled in other states,” stated a feasibility report conducted by the San Joaquin Valley Regional Planning Agencies Policy Council.

Tulare County has been on board with the project since its inception through its membership in the San Joaquin Valley Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Now the city of Visalia has joined efforts to become one of the Inland Ports although Fresno may have the inside track with access to both freight rail giants, Union Pacific (UP) and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF). But Visalia is now a key logistics center adjacent to both Highway 99 and the main UP line. ”It’s on our radar,” says Devon Jones, economic development manager for the city of Visalia.

The objectives of the California Inland Port are:

  • Support new job creation and investment growth by fundamentally repositioning the economic competitiveness of the San Joaquin Valley region.
  • Create a more robust and efficient distribution system with a specific focus on high-value manufacturing, e-commerce, and the agriculture sectors.
  • Reducing shipping costs for shippers that manage global supply chains through direct intermodal rail service to/from the San Pedro seaports.
  • Significantly reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of truck trips from the seaports complex in the Los Angeles region to the Central Valley and the Bay Area.
  • Reduce highway road congestion, with a parallel reduction in the requirement for road maintenance; accident-avoidance savings; all of this reducing cost.  There is currently no rail intermodal service from the Ports to intra-California markets.

Practically all containerized cargo being transported to and from California seaports from inland markets travel by truck. The report noted that in recent years, there has been considerable interest in better connecting the San Joaquin Valley to the international seaports in Southern California, such as Los Angeles and Long Beach.  These efforts have the potential to enhance economic opportunity in the Central Valley while simultaneously reducing air pollution. The Port of Los Angeles and Merced County kicked off the concept by developing the Mid-California International Trade District, a growing logistics and manufacturing hub in Merced County. Building on this effort, a group of business leaders and the Central Valley Community Foundation initiated the California Inland Port Feasibility Analysis (CIPFA) which set out to determine whether it would be feasible to establish a rail-served inland port project in California.

Based upon an analysis completed in spring 2020, proposed intermodal rail service would provide a significant reduction in annual emissions for cargo being shipped in and out of the San Joaquin Valley. Nitric oxide (NOx) emissions, the primary byproduct of burning fossil fuel, would be reduced by up to 83% while greenhouse gas emissions, such as ozone, would be reduced by up to 93%, according to a feasibility conducted by the San Joaquin Valley Regional Planning Agencies Policy Council. Moving large quantities of freight via rail would remove some freight trucks from the public highways, reducing congestion, improving traffic flow and safety on Highways 101, 99 and I-5.

Industry is On Board
The feasibility study also gathered input from key sectors of the shipping industry including large agricultural exporters, key exporters of manufactured products, inbound retailers, logistical companies like Amazon, and trucking companies and ocean carriers.  “In general, the input strongly suggested that industry felt that the introduction of intermodal rail through the California market would be beneficial to their current business and would support increased business in the future,” the report stated. “In terms of today’s condition, there was an overwhelming desire for reductions in shipping costs and more surety about stable logistics solutions to support growth.”

Agricultural processors, such as Tulare County citrus, indicated a desire for far more efficient field-to-port logistics.  They indicated that lower costs would increase their profit margins and support increased export production. Distribution centers, like Walmart, Joann’s and Amazon in Tulare County, saw rail as a way to offset shipping cost through fuel reductions and dynamics. Due to the challenges of securing drivers for longer hauls, the trucking community reacted positively to the concept of increased rail service to key hubs in the Central Valley.  They felt that an intermodal rail inland port would reduce their exposure to running longer haul trucks into the Los Angeles traffic zone and reduce their exposure to long wait times at the ports. Serving intermodal hubs in the Central Valley would allow them to substitute shorter and more profitable routes and would allow them to retain drivers.

Pulling Forward
The Inland Ports project is currently in Phase two of its feasibility study determining market readiness, industry acceptance, estimating costs and competitive impacts to the region while preparing for the environmental process moving forward. This phase is where the Executive Advisory Group (EAG) is formed, helping to inform decision making as the study moves forward. All major stakeholders will have a role in this group. The private sector, including major shippers and experts, will inform the EAG through a Shipper’s Committee. Phase Two is fully funded and is proceeding through GLDPartners under the management of the Fresno Council of Governments.

Phase Three will move the project forward to the delivery stage, detail a project financial performance model, develop a business plan for green, high-efficiency logistics/investment hubs around intermodal facilities, plan for an intermodal facility site selection, develop detailed capital cost programs, deliver a railroad agreement to collaborate, and develop public-private delivery options. Phase Three received a Caltrans Strategic Partnership grant for $388,000 in the 2021-22 funding cycle.

Owner of Save Mart, FoodMaxx brands sells to L.A. private equity firm

A Los Angeles private equity firm announced Monday it has acquired Central Valley grocery store owner The Save Mart Cos. Modesto-based Save Mart has about 200 stores in California and northern Nevada, including the Lucky California and FoodMaxx brands. It also operates a refrigerated transport company and is co-owner of a distribution center in Lathrop and a dairy processing plant in Turlock. Terms of Save Mart’s purchase by Kingswood Capital Management LP were not disclosed.

The Save Mart Cos. operates Save Mart and FoodMaxx stores in Kern County. It said in a news release the transaction will be transparent to customers and its 14,000 employees. In January 2021, Kingswood purchased Alameda-based Cost Plus World Market. It also owns a marine services business. “At Kingswood, our goal is to make good businesses even better, and The Save Mart Companies presents us with a great opportunity to do so,” Alex Wolf, Kingswood’s founder and managing partner, said in the same release. “Their 70 years of history in the Central Valley provides a strong foundation for future profitable growth, and we look forward to working with Chris and the team to position these iconic grocery brands for the future.”

Visalia industrial building boom continues

VISALIA – While most Valley industries struggle to find workers to fill vacant positions, industrial facilities are booming in Visalia bringing with them hundreds of jobs for Tulare County residents. Tulare County has already added more than 3,000 jobs in the “trade, transportation and utilities” sector in the last year, according to the California Employment Development Department.  The latest large-scale facilities to file plans for the Visalia Industrial Park are Seefried Industrial Properties and Fowler Packing. Seefried is a major developer with over 190 million square feet of speculative or “spec” industrial warehouses across the nation and regional offices in southeast, southwest, west and midwest. It is also the same company already underway on construction of the recently announced Ace Hardware distribution center. Ace’s 1.1 million square foot facility is on 80 acres just south of this new 535,540 square foot spec building on 39 acres. The two parcels were acquired at the same time.

Seefried’s latest project, at the northeast corner of Avenue 76 and West Goshen Avenue, is a spec project, so no tenant has been announced. The complex includes parking for 545 cars and 1,760 trailer parking stalls. This facility could accommodate a single tenant or up to four tenants. Access to the site will be from North Plaza Drive to the east and Route 76 to the west. There is a private access road to the north (From Plaza Drive) that will provide two full-access driveways with code required fire access around the perimeter. Construction ground-breaking is estimated in the fourth quarter of 2022 with full completion of the project in 2023.

The second  building project is being  proposed by Fowler Packing, a subsidiary of G4 Enterprises, Ltd., owned by the Parnagian in Fresno. Called the Duarte Industrial project, Fowler Paking’s 15-acre development is located east of North Kelsey Street and south of West Goshen Avenue. This the second filing of the project at site plan review after initial comments were received by the developer. The proposed development consists of the construction and operation of an office/warehouse style, shell building that is approximately 313,000 square feet. The proposed building will have four offices and approximately 48 loading docks on the south side of the building. The project will provide approximately 382 standard parking stalls for employee parking including eight handicap stalls and future EV charging stations. Access to the site is provided off of North Kelsey Street. Operational times are typical of warehouse style facilities and may operate up to 24 hours a day and 7 days a week since it will be a warehouse for distribution of goods.

G4 Enterprises is not new to Visalia having acquired Midstate 99 Distribution Center, a 790,000-square-foot industrial complex in Visalia, for $33.4 million in 2017. G4 has also been busy in Fresno where they brought in Amazon west of Highway 99 a few years ago. Now the developer is being thwarted on expanding in West Fresno due to opposition from community groups. At the same time, negotiations with community groups lead to an agreement from G4 to reinforce homes in south central Fresno in response to added traffic from a second Amazon sorting facility near the first. At a hearing last spring, developer Leland Parnagian noted that “The U.S. is really undergoing a shift in how people buy things from in-store to online and that’s really driving changes in employment around the country.” Also in Fresno, Seefried is breaking ground on a second “last mile delivery” warehouse  in Fresno for Amazon. No such facility is known to be happening in Visalia, as of yet.

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.

Renewable fuel production heats up in Kern

Renewable fuels production is becoming a bigger focus in Kern lately as investors launch projects that reinforce the county’s prominence in biofuels and advanced facilities are proposed for deriving bioenergy from local waste streams. Final preparations for a new renewable diesel project at the former Big West refinery on Rosedale Highway have roughly coincided with the recent expansion of a plant southwest of Bakersfield that leads the state in production of biodiesel. Plans are being made, meanwhile, for recycling centers that would turn household and other organic waste into biomethane, among other projects under consideration. Cooperation taking place locally aims to build on Kern’s momentum. Enthusiasm is running high as local initiatives stand to receive state money. But becoming a true center of excellence may depend on factors beyond local control.

Harry Simpson, CEO of Crimson Renewable Energy Holdings, recently finished a 50-percent increase in production capacity at the company’s 88-acre biodiesel refinery off Millux Road near Interstate 5. As a local operator, he was encouraged by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal last week for an $83 million energy innovation center at Cal State Bakersfield. Hopefully a commercially viable idea will emerge from the new center, he said. But he noted there’s no guarantee any such innovation would be built locally. “The question is, will this stuff get built in Kern County as opposed to somewhere else?” he said. “It would be cheaper and easier for me to do (business) in Texas or Louisiana than California.”

That possibility isn’t stopping local energy leaders from pursuing a collaboration geared toward capitalizing on Kern’s existing strengths in renewable fuels. One of the industry players participating in the county’s B3K Prosperity economic development initiative is Jennifer Haley, president and CEO of Kern Oil & Refining Co., a 155-employee plant that makes renewable diesel and other fuels at its 26,000-barrel-per-day refinery near Lamont. As her own company looks for strategic partners to do more waste-to-fuel processing and production of ultra-low-carbon intensity fuels, she sees the B3K collaboration as the best way to put local talent and other resources to use creating good local jobs. “It’s how do we pivot or how do we evolve toward managing that carbon intensity and meeting our climate goals?” Although it’s hard to say what products and technology will finally help California achieve its goals, she added, “I think we can define what the future looks like and be a part of the solution.”

California imports most of its biodiesel, just as it imports most of its crude oil. But to the degree that turning California’s growing stream of organic waste into energy is a local affair, at least, Kern is expected to attract investment in the months and years ahead, as the state requires municipalities to divert food scraps and other organic waste away from landfills to fight climate change. J.D. Gessin, operations CEO at West Coast Biofuels, is working to convert an idle produce plant in McFarland into a biodiesel and renewable fuels plant serving the commercial transportation industry. It is expected to employ more than 20 people turning waste oils such as grease and rendered fats into fuel for agriculture, heavy machinery, aviation, tractor-trailers and, eventually, maritime transport.

Separately, the company hopes to deploy a series of modular bioenergy refineries in Kern and as far north as Stockton to gasify organic waste that otherwise heads to a landfill. Each facility would employ three dozen or more people and process 20 to 30 metric tons of waste. Gessin said the company expects to eventually produce not only conventional liquid renewable fuels for decarbonizing commercial transport in California but also renewable electricity, biomethane and hydrogen. Local dairies equipped with large manure digesters also produce biomethane for use in Central Valley transportation. The facilities have ramped up quickly in recent years with state subsidies for capturing and harnessing a potent greenhouse gas methane that otherwise vents to the atmosphere.

In 2020, 589 million gallons of renewable diesel accounted for only about one-sixth of California’s total use of diesel fuel, according to the California Energy Commission. Renewables’ share is expected to jump 40 percent just with the project Global Clean Energy Holdings Inc. is preparing to begin on a portion of the former Big West property. Expected to employ more than 100 workers, the plant is planned to produce 15,000 barrels per day, or 230 million gallons per year. Like other local plants, its feedstock will include used cooking oil and rendered fats, though eventually it is expected to incorporate oil from a crop called camelina. Crimson’s operation on Millux, now responsible for 36 million gallons of biodiesel per year, has been the state’s largest producer of the fuel for almost 10 years. It brings in used cooking oil from as far north as Seattle, but still produces less than California biodiesel sources like Singapore. Still greater potential may lie in biomethane and hydrogen produced from organic waste.

Executive director Julia Levin of the Bioenergy Association of California said the state’s capacity for producing biomethane is pegged at the equivalent of 4 billion gallons per year of diesel — a third more than California’s demand for that fuel — using only waste from landfills, wastewater treatment, animal manure, fats, grease and biomass such as ag trimmings. She noted hydrogen could also be created from such sources. The California Public Utilities Commission has helped by requiring natural gas utilities to incorporate biomethane into the fuel it delivers residential customers for use in heating, cooking and drying. Levin said it won’t be long before more jets, ships and heavy-duty trucks are running on the fuel, given that some forms of transportation won’t easily adopt batteries. There are signs as well that state government is preparing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in biomethane, hydrogen and other renewable fuels. She predicted growing demand as California works to replace the feedstock fueling its natural gas power plants and looks for different forms of long-term energy storage. “I don’t think we’re going to see market saturation for a long time,” Levin said. “The problem is opposite right now. We need to ramp up production much more quickly.”

Amazon to open ‘last mile’ warehouse in Fresno, bringing 550 jobs. Here’s what it will do

Online retail giant Amazon is expanding its sizable footprint in Fresno with plans to open a “last mile” warehouse in the eastern part of the city south of Fresno Yosemite International Airport. According to development plans and permit applications filed last year with the city, Seefried Industrial Properties is building a 183,000-square-foot warehouse that will serve as a delivery station – one final stop for packages before they are delivered to customers. The facility is reportedly expected to open in the second half of this year and will operate around the clock with as many as 550 employees.

The site covers about 43 acres at the southwest corner of Olive and Clovis avenues, near the former Sunnyside Drive-In movie theater. The old drive-in property is bounded on the south and west by the Amazon property, according to Fresno zoning maps. HIghway 180 runs along the south side of the Amazon site. Fresno City Councilmember Tyler Maxwell, whose Council District 4 included the site until newly redrawn districts took effect this year, confirmed to The Bee on Wednesday that the project was indeed being built for Amazon. From the time that the first development applications were filed almost a year ago, Maxwell said the nature of the project was kept “pretty hush hush” by both the developer and the city manager’s office.

“Trying to find out more information had been difficult,“ Maxwell said. “My staff had to dig to find out who was behind the fictitious business name, and of course it was Amazon.” In both development applications and in various building permit documents, the project has been described as a “warehouse and distribution facility” or “delivery station” amounting to about 161,000 square feet of warehouse space and about 22,000 square feet of offices and support space. “Delivery stations power the last mile of the tenant’s order fulfillment process and help speed up delivery for customers,” Seefried Industrial representatives stated in a permit application last year.

The developer noted that the site will have parking for more than 1,600 cars and vans, in addition to 12 trailer parking spaces. The building itself will include 17 loading-dock doors. Amazon opened a massive, 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center at the southern edge of Fresno in mid-2018, eventually ramping up its hiring to about 2,500 workers by last year. Since opening, construction has commenced on a nearby second large fulfillment center for Amazon, at 470,000 square feet, after the city of Fresno reached a settlement with residents who objected to the growing number of distribution centers in their south Fresno neighborhood. The company is also stepping up its partnerships with a cadre of “last mile” delivery partners – companies that contract with Amazon for delivery of packages to customers’ doors. The last-mile warehouses serve as an intermediate stop for packages between larger fulfillment centers and customers, providing a final sorting stop where drivers collect packages for delivery.

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.”