More jobs announced as Turlock’s new Amazon fulfillment center opens. How much do they pay?

The new Amazon fulfillment center in Turlock opened Thursday morning with big smiles and news of more jobs.

The massive 1.1 million-square-foot warehouse was built from the ground up at Fulkerth Road and Fransil Lane over the last year and a half. The grand opening celebration included the announcement of some 500 more jobs than previously predicted to staff the facility once fully operational. Initially, the online retail giant said it planned to hire some 1,000 workers in Turlock, but now expects to employ 1,500. “This is huge!” said Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, who was among a handful of dignitaries and their representatives at the ribbon-cutting for the center. “It was just a dream that we get this area together and that we start to bring big businesses here, big opportunities for jobs. …. This will be a benefit for decades for our community.”

Turlock Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Gina Blom, left, and Yosemite Community College District Chancellor Henry Yong, Amazon Turlock Senior Operations Manager Steve Ramirez and Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak cut the ceremonial ribbon Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, to open the new fulfillment center on Fulkerth Road in Turlock, Calif.

The new facility, the first for Turlock and only the second in Stanislaus County from the e-commerce company, received its first shipment Sept. 25 and has been slowly ramping up production as it works to get fully staffed. The fulfillment center, which began construction in April 2021, had to push back its original projected opening date of “mid-2022” to late September. Like its smaller counterpart in Patterson, which opened in 2013, the new Turlock facility is a so-called nonsortable fulfillment center, meaning it stocks, picks, packs and ships large, bulk or otherwise unusually sized items.

Inside, the floor is filled with 40-foot-high rows that are being filled with everything from patio furniture to outdoor grills, mini-fridges and area rugs. Senior Operations Manager Steve Ramirez, a Modesto native turned Turlock resident who previously worked in a Tracy Amazon site, said the new center is only about 7% stocked. Inventory is expected to be at 30% by the holidays, with the facility stocked at full capacity by February. A worker sorts items inside the new Amazon fulfillment center in Turlock, Calif. Oct. 20, 2022.

Already, Amazon has hired hundreds of workers to begin filling its shifts. The facility operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has 12 shifts across its schedule. Hundreds of more openings are expected, with new workers joining daily, Ramirez said.

Starting salary for the new floor positions start at $18.75, or $39,000 a year for full-time workers. The Turlock starting wages are just shy of the new $19 average hourly wage the company announced in September that it was rolling out for most of its front-line warehouse and transportation workers across the country. But Amazon spokeswoman Natalie Banke said wages vary “city by city,” and the $19 was a national average, not the national minimum starting salary. The Turlock salary is the same as Patterson’s, which employs about 600 workers. A worker moves items Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, inside the new Amazon fulfillment center in Turlock, Calif.

The company also plans to hire an additional 200 to 300 seasonal workers in Turlock, starting now, who will help with the holiday rush. Ramirez said he expects it to take six months to a year for the new Turlock center to be fully staffed. Banke said about 92% of employees so far live in Stanislaus County. On the warehouse floor, a small armada of red hydrogen-powered forklifts zip along rows and rows of 40-foot racks. Associates are lifted 30-plus feet into the air to stock and pick items, with others sorting and shipping on the floor of its two levels. Items then go from the warehouse directly to Amazon delivery vehicles or third-party package carriers for delivery.

A worker drives a power lift inside the new Amazon fulfillment center that recently opened in Turlock, Calif Oct. 20, 2022. “People are very excited about the opening,” said senior site safety manager Myranda St. John, a Modesto rsident who previously worked in one of the company’s Stockton facilities and has seen her commute time cut in half. “Amazon has provided a lot of opportunities for myself and for the larger community. I’ve been able to go from an hourly employee to a salaried employee in less than five years.”

In March of this year, Amazon announced its partnership with Turlock’s California State University, Stanislaus, and Modesto Junior College for the company’s Career Choice program. Hourly employees at the new Turlock facility are eligible for free tuition at both institutions. Full- and part-time employees are eligible, but only full-time employees will have all their tuition paid (part-time workers receive half). The entrance to the warehouse floor inside the new Amazon fulfillment center in Turlock, Calif. is seen Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022.

The new facility, like all Amazon distribution centers, is named after a nearby airport. The Turlock site is named MCE1 for the Merced Regional Airport, which is about 30 miles to the south. “We are very blessed being here in Turlock and we have had amazing response to our hiring and have had no constraints there at all,” Ramirez said. “We will continuously be on-boarding a few hundred associates throughout the remainder of the year.” Amazon Senior Operations Manager Steve Ramirez inside the new large and bulky item fulfillment center that has opened in Turlock, Calif., on Oct. 20, 2022.

Job seekers interested in applying for full-time, part-time or seasonal work at the Turlock Amazon facility can find open positions and applications online at Job seekers can also sign up for text alerts for upcoming Amazon jobs in the region. To sign up, text “AMAZONJOBS” to ” 77088 ,” and then you will receive a series of texts asking you to opt-in for jobs in your ZIP code.

Irvine farm technology company may set up operations center in Bakersfield

An ag-tech startup in Irvine is considering establishing operations in Bakersfield in coordination with city government. M8 Systems, founded by the executive credited with inventing cashier-less retail stores for Amazon, proposes to locally engineer, assemble, test and sell automated irrigation systems that would use sensors and control systems to help farmers use water more efficiently.

No agreement has been finalized to bring the company to Bakersfield, but founder and CEO Max Safai said he hopes to employ six people in the city by the end of this year. By the end of 2024, he said, nearly 20 M8 workers could be working locally — three-quarters or more of its workforce. He said the company’s headquarters would to Bakersfield. “We want to have a close relationship with the city of Bakersfield, and we also want to be where the action is in the Central Valley,” Safai said.

Director Paul M. Saldaña of Bakersfield’s Economic and Community Development Department said companies like M8 are “exactly the type of innovative companies that we’d like to see come to Bakersfield.” He pointed to a $150,000 deal the city recently struck to attract another tech startup, North Carolina battery company SineWatts Inc. “There are a number of innovative companies that we continue to have conversations with, and we hope … to see similar opportunities in the very near future,” Saldaña said. He said the city might offer a financial incentive to M8.

Safai said M8 started in March 2019 after avocado farmers he knows in San Diego County expressed concern about rising irrigation costs. After some tinkering, he performed two “proofs of concept” in his garage that demonstrated the viability of a system to measure water use precisely, detect leaks and then turn off valves as appropriate before issuing a digital alert that a problem has been found. The idea now is to combine irrigation-control equipment — new or already installed in ag fields — with satellite and drone imagery, weather information and cloud-data technology in what Safai called a new application of “smart ag.”

M8’s system would sense changing conditions, including potentially adverse events such as wind that could waste irrigation water, and make automated suggestions around the clock to save farmers money. Any water leaks would automatically result in pressure shutoffs to specific pipes, along with the transmission of text messages to nearby farmworkers. The system would take into account soil status, relative humidity and temperature readings.

The company’s biggest test yet is expected to take place during the next two weeks as M8 brings 23 San Diego County farmers online to test out the system. Safai said the company is also negotiating its first large investment of outside money. While orchards would benefit, Safai said the best application of the technology might be row crops such as the carrots grown in and around Kern. He noted the Central Valley produces revenues of about $17 billion per year, or about a quarter of the U.S. food supply. “This is a very big market for us,” he said.

It will be important to show M8’s customers the company is responsive to their concerns and near enough to do something about them quickly, Safai said. For that reason, he hopes to find a local home for not only product assembly and testing but also procurement, logistics and repairs ready within 24 hours. There will need to be local electrical engineering and mechanical engineering labs, as well as an area for working with fluid flow technology. A small presence would remain in Irvine to perform tasks such as software engineering, human resources management, some sales and finance, partly to serve customers in San Diego County. Eventually the company may lease its products to farmers, as a way of helping them fix their costs, but Safai said the initial plan is to sell the systems directly to farmers and charge them for the company’s data plan. Safai noted he has come to Bakersfield to meet with people about the proposal to set up a local operation. Once here, he found the people he met were “amazingly wonderful, motivated people.”

Looking for a new job? This California program will pay women to work in construction

State and local officials are doubling down on efforts to support women in California’s central San Joaquin Valley who want to pursue careers in the construction trades. California Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, a Democrat who represents the Fresno area in California’s 31st district, presented a $3 million check to the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board to support its ValleyBuild construction training programs. The “program that has done such tremendous work” said Arambula during a Wednesday news conference. “Those who are under-employed and unemployed, who have barriers to employment, are given opportunities and a pathway to success.”

Earlier this year, the Workforce Development Board partnered with Tradeswomen Inc. and ValleyBuild — a 14-county collaboration between workforce boards that prepares workers for construction trades — to launch ValleyBuild NOW, or Non-traditional Occupations for Women, a pre-apprenticeship training program for women. The two-month program prepares women for careers in construction and related trades and connects them with employment opportunities. Participants also receive stipends to cover their living expenses and help with transportation and childcare costs.

The first cohort launched in August with a group of 13 women. Recent graduate Sarai Ayala said she learned about the opportunity on Instagram. The 27-year-old Ayala said she was initially in disbelief that the program would pay her to learn. Ayala worked at a local warehouse but said she was looking for something more. “I thought it was crazy,” she said, laughing. Through the training, Ayala said she was able to experiment with different construction career paths. Next week, she starts a new transitional job with the local plumbers and pipefitters. “I’m so grateful,” she said “This type of support doesn’t come around as often as it should.” Another ValleyBuild NOW Fresno cohort is planned for May 2023; a co-ed ValleyBuild training program will start in January 2023. Construction a man’s job? ‘We want to change that’

After nearly 16 years working in animal shelters Crystal Wiggins, 36, knew she needed a career change – but wasn’t sure how to navigate the transition. She already dabbled in things like welding and building cabinets as hobbies, but it wasn’t until a friend saw an advertisement on the ValleyBuild NOW training program that she decided to seriously pursue a career change. The Rosie the Riveter-inspired image caught his eye, said Wiggins. “He stumbled across it on Facebook and saw it and said, ‘this is for Crystal.'”

But Wiggins was on the fence about joining the apprenticeship. “I’m the only person who financially supports my household,” she said. Wiggins has two sons, ages 19 and 11, and cares for her mother, as well. She has three car payments for the three adults and recently purchased her home. “Losing that (stable) paycheck was scary,” she said. But ultimately, she made the decision to make the switch “because of the mileage, because of the stipend.” Women and non-binary individuals make up around 3.5% of active apprentices in the building and construction trades, California Labor Secretary Natalie Palugyai said in a statement on Tuesday. “When we stop to think about why, it’s in large part because construction is widely viewed as a man’s job. We want to change that,” she said.

In addition to the funding for the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, the 2022-2023 state budget includes $15 million to support the Women in Construction Priority Program at the Department of Industrial Relations. The state is also accepting proposals for $25 million in funds to support apprenticeship programs that target women, non-binary and underserved populations entering building and construction trades. As for Wiggins, she’s preparing to start her transitional job in sheet metal apprenticeship as she waits to join the union. “I know in the long run, it’s going to be 10 times better,” she said. “This program has been absolutely amazing for me.”

Funding for the training programs comes at a time that the Central Valley region is set to receive billions of dollars in public infrastructure spending, said Blake Konczal, executive director Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, in an interview with The Bee on Tuesday.

According to a report prepared by Applied Development Economics, Inc. for the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, over the next ten years, the Central San Joaquin Valley and its surrounding counties are set to receive over $47 billion dollars in funding for everything from transportation, the High-Speed Rail, buildings, canals, broadband, and more. The study also estimates this funding led to over 41,000 jobs in construction labor, engineering an design in 2021 alone. According to EDD wage data from the first quarter of 2021, the mean annual wage for Fresno County construction laborers was $55,052. “With all this construction happening in our Valley, if we do not prepare our neighbors to access these jobs,” said Konczal, “workers will be imported from other parts of the state or other parts of the country to do this work.” “The opportunity is there,” he said.

Chowchilla leaders herald new $150M AutoZone distribution center, will create 300 jobs

Valley leaders say an empty dirt lot on Highway 99 in Chowchilla will soon be an important center of economic growth for the city, as well as the Madera-Merced County region. Those officials teamed with AutoZone representatives Friday morning to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the new $150 million distribution center that will be built in Chowchilla. Chowchilla City Administrator Rod Pruett called it the biggest project to come to the city in decades. The 560,000 square foot facility will serve close to 300 AutoZone stores in Northern California, Oregon and Nevada. There are more than 6,000 AutoZone stores located in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, according to the company’s website.

The project is expected to create close to 300 full-time jobs. The site of the distribution center will be along Chowchilla Boulevard, near Highway 99. “This is a huge day,” Pruett said. “This is the biggest project that’s come to Chowchilla in decades. It brings close to 300 jobs to our community which is a huge deal for us. It’s been over two years in the making.” “These are careers, not just jobs,” Pruett added. “High school kids can stay here in the community. They don’t have to leave. It keeps families intact here. It brings even more to our community as well.” AutoZone officials chose Chowchilla over several sites they were considering. “We were looking for somewhere to expand our presence in Northern California and we looked all over this region,” said Bill Rhodes, who is the AutoZone President and CEO.

Rhodes said he and other AutoZone representatives were impressed with the commitment of the Chowchilla city leaders drive to economic development in their community. “It’s going to take a couple years for us to build the facility,” Rhodes said. “We’ll put $150 million or more into the building. It’ll be 560,000 square feet, housing at least 300 Auto Zoners (employees) and it’ll probably grow pretty extensively beyond that as the years go. We’ll be servicing at least 300 stores and probably get to 500 or 600 stores over time. We’ll have a big fleet of tractor trailers that are coming in and out of here every single day.” Officials say they expect the facility to open near the end of 2023. “It stands for an opportunity (for) growth in a small community,” said Chowchilla Mayor John Chavez. “It stands for sustainable jobs where we reside. It stands for a solid future of development in our industrial area. It stands for a huge milestone for Chowchilla. This is probably the biggest thing to happen in Chowchilla since I’ve been here.”

State senate passes Gaming Compact Agreement for Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tejon

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KERO) — The California State Senate passed the Gaming Compact Agreement for the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tejon on Wednesday night in Sacramento.

The hotel and casino, which will be built just south of Bakersfield, are expected to bring 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, adding over $60 million in payroll every year, as well as making the area a tourism hub for the region. The project is expected to create 400 guest rooms, several restaurants, and entertainment venue, and a convention center. The land on which the resort will sit will become the Tejon Indian Tribe’s first reservation. The Tejon Indian Tribe says 52 acres of the site will be devoted to the resort hotel and casino, while 22 adjacent acres will be designated for an RV park. The remainder of the property will be used for other tribal purposes including administrative offices, a health facility, housing and supporting infrastructure.

The tribe, in partnership with Kern County and Hard Rock International, will also build a joint substation for the Kern County Fire Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Office next to the hotel in order to ensure the safety of residents and visitors in the area. No taxpayer money will be used to operate the hotel or any supporting infrastructure. Governor Gavin Newsom signed off on the Gaming Compact Agreement on June 14, 2022, paving the way for the approval of the state senate.

This new Texas-sized restaurant will bring 225 jobs to Turlock when it opens in fall

A new national restaurant chain is poised to give Turlock a Texas-sized welcome this fall. Work on the new Texas Roadhouse on Countryside Drive continues, with plans for a mid-October opening for the popular steakhouse chain. To get ready for its debut, the company is accepting applications to staff the massive new restaurant. Hiring is underway to fill some 225 jobs, including front- and back-of-house positions. Applicants can go to the Texas Roadhouse careers page at Walk-in interviews are also being conducted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday in the former Army/Navy recruiting center in the same Countryside Plaza Shopping Center, across the parking lot from the restaurant construction site.

AA Texas Roadhouse4.jpgA new Texas Roadhouse restaurant on Countryside Drive will open in by mid-October 2022. Photographed in Turlock, Calif., on August 23, 2022. Applicants should take their resumes and two forms of identification to the walk-up interviews. The company’s careers page lists more than a dozen open positions, from service manager to line cook, baker to bartender and more.

The restaurant chain is known for its big steaks and Texas-themed ambiance, which includes free peanuts and fresh baked bread at tables. Founded in 1993, the company is actually headquartered in Kentucky. The steakhouse chain has 610 locations in 49 states as well as international sites.
The Turlock location will be the chain’s first in the Central Valley city. It will replace the city’s old Hometown Buffet, which closed permanently during the pandemic. The new company chose to tear down the existing building to build the distinctive 8,300-square-foot Texas Roadhouse, with construction starting earlier this year.

A company representative said the Turlock site is among the chain’s larger restaurant models and will be able to seat 420 people at a time. That will make it one of the city’s largest-capacity restaurants, if not the outright largest. This will be the second Texas Roadhouse location in Stanislaus County. The first opened in Modesto in 2013 on Sisk Road and has been a popular draw ever since. This year, the national steakhouse chain was ranked the 27th top largest national restaurant chain by Nation’s Restaurant News, an industry trade journal, with $3.4 billion in sales last year.

Another industry trade journal, FSR, ranked the company No. 4 in casual chain earnings per restaurant this year — with $6.4 million earned per year per restaurant. Once open, the new Turlock Texas Roadhouse will serve dine-in and takeout daily for dinner, and weekends for lunch and dinner. For more information, visit

Fresno Program Steers Eager Workers to Good Paying Trucker Jobs

Corina Hernandez is going trucking to build a better life for herself and her 15-year-old son. “I hope that I will be able to buy a home for me and my son,” she said. Hernandez is one of 24 students at the John Lawson Trucking School, newly reopened in a JD Food facility near Fresno. Funded by federal dollars through the Fresno Economic Development Corporation, the school held a ribbon cutting Thursday.

Lee Ann Eager with Fresno EDC says the school wants to double the number of students with funds from the Good Jobs Challenge grant, part of its Welfare to Work program. Fresno EDC pays the training costs, estimated at $3,000 per student. “We’re hoping, with our new grant, to be able to double that and hire new teachers, new trainers, and really be able to do maybe 50 students in a cohort get some more trucks,” Eager said.

For Hernandez, she left the medical field as a certified nursing assistant for better pay. “I realized that that wasn’t for me. And I have family and friends that work in the trucking industry, and they kind of told me some of the benefits. And it is a growing industry for female truckers,” Hernandez, 32 of Fresno, said. She is halfway through the 12-week truck driving course. The Fresno County Department of Social Services helped steer her in the direction of the school. “Women can do it just as much as men. And it’s a great job opportunity,” she said.

JD Food: We Need a Lot of Truck Drivers

More truckers could not come at a better time. Mark Ford, president of JD Food, wants to hire more truckers to deliver food and industrial supplies throughout California. “It’s a lot of miles covered,” Ford said. “We need a lot of truck drivers. We send trucks into L.A. every day. We send trucks into the Bay Area every day, too.” JD Food employs 32 drivers, but Ford wants to expand. He says there are 80,000 openings nationwide. “We’re always looking for truck drivers. Our fleet is growing. Our drivers are always growing. And it’s just a great career, too,” Ford said.

Ford says a shortage due to the pandemic is easing. Their best recruitment tool is word of mouth — employees can earn bonuses for referrals. A driver could earn $60,000 a year. JD Food bought its facility on Central Avenue at Minnewawa in 2021 to accommodate expansion. But it was too much space. “I saw the need (for more truckers). I reached out to (Fresno EDC) and said, we have a pretty nice office that we’re not using at all. Would that be something that you’d be able to use? And so, they looked at it. They thought it was great,” Ford said.

Electric Trucks Coming, But When?

Students practice driving skills on two diesel trucks. Eager says the next truck the school purchases will be either electric or hydrogen powered. “We expect to have everything, the electric or hydrogen by 2035. So obviously we need to be planning for that. And there are incentives for trucking companies to look at electric trucks,” Eager said. Eager is also chairwoman of the California Transportation Commission. “We know what (switching to electric) means for all of us. So as the transportation commission, we are looking at what are those ways that we can ensure that the people of the Central Valley can breathe good air. And I’m certainly supportive of how we get to that place. And getting people into zero-emission vehicles is a priority,” Eager said.

She says if ZEV are manufactured in California, that could reduce costs. Ford is hesitant to add non-diesel trucks to his fleet. “We’re pausing and waiting right now. The technology is not there to meet our needs because we go such a distance and the distance that we travel would not accommodate the needs of the electric power vehicles,” Ford said. “As the technology develops, we’re definitely going to be a part of that.”

Industrial park grows by leaps and bounds

VISALIA – Another 2,000 jobs might be capping off the recent industrial boom as a familiar developer continues to expand the boundaries of the Visalia Industrial Park. After luring Amazon into two, million square plus warehouses in the industrial park, Newport Beach-based CapRock is now planning an even larger complex west of Plaza Drive and a mile north of Riggin Avenue. The industrial park’s largest developer plans to build four concrete tilt-up buildings totalling 2.7 million square feet on the 155-acre parcel. Principal owner Pat Daniels said CapRock would break ground on the first phase of the project next year. While the tenants for the  buildings are speculative, the plan suggests they could employ around 2,000 workers with some 2,100 parking places for cars. The plan says they want to feed inbound trucks into the new cluster of buildings off of Plaza.

The huge parcel, considered phase 3 of the Caprock’s industrial park developments, will be sandwiched in between Kibler Avenue (Avenue 320) on the north, Plaza Drive on the east, American Street (Road 76) to the west and Riverway Drive on the south – one mile north of Riggin along Modoc Ditch. Full buildout and signalization of the Kibler Ave. and Plaza Dr. intersection is required with the development of the new Amazon center now nearing completion just north of the first Amazon, part of Phase 2A of the Caprock projects. Caprock’s overall plan also includes another 1 million square feet planned for a vacant lot at the southeast corner of Kibler and Plaza as part of its Phase 2b. Now Daniels has leapt over Plaza to begin and build Phase 3 before Phase 2b starts in a few years. The reason could be Daniels has a different LLC who looks to invest in Phase 3 and perhaps a proposed tenant who has selected this location a mile closer to Highway 99. This new project is breaking new ground in this area as it will require all off-site infrastructure to be in place before development is done, a time consuming process. Phase 3 was submitted for Site Plan Review in January and has incorporated changes received from the city through subsequent meetings on Jan. 21 and March 29, 2022. The city has required the project be built out in phases and is not allowing cars or commercial vehicles to access Building 1 from American (Road 76). Other changes include reducing the size of Building 1 by 34,000 sf and shifting it 110 feet to the south, relocating a retention basin, splitting a 1.3 million square foot Building 2 into three smaller buildings of 322,000, 598,000 and 510,000 square feet.

CapRock kicked off the Visalia logistics boom when it sold acreage to UPS that became a 450,000 square-foot package distribution hub opening in 2020. That was followed by construction of the 1.1 million square-foot Amazon fulfillment center, operational as of last September. About 1,700 people are employed between the two locations. A handful of large players are building or planning to build. Phoenix based Seefried Industries is nearing completion on the new Ace Hardware distribution center and planning another 535,00 sf spec building. Just last week, YS Industries filed plans for a 1.55 million sf development. Fowler Packing is planing to break ground early next year on a 312,000 square foot warehouse. American Air’s Butch Oldfield, busy with a slew of new industrial projects, and Irvine-based Greenfield Partners are working on a 2 million sf complex at Kelsey and 198. Also in the works is the Ritchie/Vidovich partnership’s plan to develop a massive new section of industrial land north of Riggin and west of Shirk totaling 280 acres and adding about 3,000 new jobs. Besides these big projects, the industrial park is also laying out new mom and pop industrial parcels from 5 to 10 acres mostly south of Goshen Avenue along American. Investor Santokh Toor has filed preliminary plans for an 80-acre development with 10 small parcels at the corner of American and Hurley, west of Plaza.

‘The Mix’ sets the table for five restaurants in downtown Visalia

VISALIA – Cities with vibrant downtowns know they rely on local restaurants and bars to set the table for success with a mix of great taste and a dash of local flavor. That’s why one local business  owner is trying to bring as many of them into one place as possible to reinvigorate a block of Main Street Visalia which has yet to recover from a devastating fire two and a half years ago. Grant Smith, whose family owns Rent To Own in Visalia, is assembling a group of marquee local eateries to fill the two-story building located at 213-217 W. Main St. He has partnered with his brother-in-law Jeff Bischofberger, of JRC Investments in Long Beach, Calif., to house five locally-owned restaurants in the renovated building dubbed “The Mix.” “We like this project because it is bringing in local businesses, not big corporate businesses,” Smith said. “We feel like downtown should be local otherwise we will lose what our downtown really is.”

Smith and Bischofberger began working on the project just before COVID and it has taken two and a half years to pull it all together. The cornerstone of the project will be second-story dining overlooking Main Street served up by Fugazzis. Smith said he knew he needed a draw like Fugazzis to anchor the project and it was a natural fit because the California bistro had been looking at the site as a possible location for several years. Fugazzis owner Mike Fligor was not available for comment but sources say he will keep the existing location at Main and Locust streets. Expected to open in early 2023, The Mix will also include Main Street mainstay Quesadilla Gorilla, and two mobile businesses making their first go at brick and mortar locations, Bombshell Beans and Scoops ice cream, sharing the downstairs space.

Miguel and Mikayla Reyes are modeling their new Quesadilla Gorilla location after their San Luis Obispo and Hanford spots with a full bar featuring tequila-inspired cocktails, such as margaritas, and craft beer. The site will also become the new headquarters for the restaurant franchise as the lease on its original location across the street is set to expire this fall. The new site is larger and will have indoor seating, something Miguel said they were never able to offer at its current downtown location. “It’s sad to see the [original location] go but this location will allow us to offer more to our guests,” Miguel said. After three years of growing his business on the road, Bombshell Beans owner Steve Mohr said he is excited about the prospect of taking his coffee truck concept and turning it into a traditional coffee shop. “We’ve had to move around so much it has been difficult for people to find us,” Mohr said. “It will be nice to be in a location that is visible in downtown and should be busy since we’re moving in with local rockstar restaurants.”

The coffee shop will allow Bombshell to do blended drinks, something he can’t do from truck because there isn’t access to enough water for cleaning the blenders and begin offering its own brand of canned energy drinks. Mohr said the new shop will also give him a homebase to begin building a fleet and a franchise of coffee trucks. He said customers can look for one of its newest trucks to begin serving coffee outside of Galaxy Theatre in Tulare later this month. “The future of Bombshell Beans is bright,” Mohr said. “We are really excited about this opportunity.” Justin Kauffman started Scoops ice cream cart in 2018 and has steadily risen in popularity at local events with its premium and delicious ice cream, sundaes, and other tasty treats. He said he was excited about the potential to expand into his first permanent location alongside other popular local restaurants.

There is one space left to fill in the building in the downstairs open “food hall” format. Renderings show a cheese shop, but Smith said that was just an idea to round out the illustration and there are not currently any leases signed and no serious talks with any businesses for that spot. “We feel like this really brings something new to downtown we haven’t really seen in this area,” Smith said. The building was formerly occupied by Quality Jewelers, which closed after 39 years in business, and Ziayas, a family-owned studio & gift shop that provides wellness tools, accessories, and home essentials with a focus on community, healing, and sustainability, which relocated to the 800 block of Main Street. The block was also vacated by Pacific Treasures, which relocated to the xxx block of Main, following a devastating fire the night after Christmas in 2018. The fire completely destroyed the building which housed a collection of popular eateries including Mamma K’s and Cafe 225 and caused major smoke and water damage to Little Italy Restaurant and Exotica Hair Studio. The three-alarm fire caused extensive damage causing the building’s entire roof to cave in. The scars of the fire remain today. The front of the shops remain boarded up and spray painted with an artistic lettering of Visalia to distract from the vacant buildings. Nearly all of the businesses folded up shop for good. To date, The Mix is the only project in the works to rebuild and reinvigorate what was once a bustling block of Visalia’s downtown.

Inland port will bring new jobs, investment to Kern

Eastern Kern will be the site of a major goods-movement project expected to help address shipping bottlenecks at ports in Southern California while attracting local investment and possibly new jobs in a sector usually associated with the valley portion of the county. The county Board of Supervisors signed off Tuesday on the Mojave Inland Port, proposed by a Houston-based developer that says the privately financed project will open by 2024 operating nonstop to handle up to 3 million 20-foot-equivalent containers per year. Located next to the Mojave Air and Space Port, the 402-acre property near highways 14 and 58 is one of few areas in the state served by air, road and rail transportation. It was chosen partly for that reason and because of ample space nearby for additional warehouse development by customers like Amazon, Walmart and Lowe’s.

Los Angeles’ Beacon Economics has estimated the project will generate $113 million in Kern and support 662 regional jobs during construction, adding $73 million to the county’s property-tax base. It says the development will ultimately support 2,851 permanent jobs in Kern, with positions ranging from foreman and crane operator to manager and driver. Developer Pioneer Partners, whose biggest project to date is a 2,200-acre brownfield development in Henderson, Nev., said 75 people will work directly for the inland port engaging with more than 1,000 truck drivers.

The idea is that ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, where land is scarce, will send container-carrying rail cars along the Alameda Corridor to Mojave, 90 miles away. There the containers will be lifted using wheeled gantry cranes and placed onto tractor-trailer rigs that will then drive away on the freeway system. The air and space port is expected to see more traffic as a result of the project.  “We believe the additional container traffic coming to Mojave will stimulate its use as a hub for air and space cargo, taking advantage of its 12,500-foot heavy lift runway directly adjacent to a new, state-of-the-art intermodal cargo hub,” Pioneer said in response to emailed questions.

Some work remains to be done with regard to permitting of buildings at the site. Project groundbreaking is expected in early 2023. A final price tag has not been released. Port container volumes have been growing quickly even before the pandemic caused disruptions that have made improving goods movement a high priority for U.S. importers and exporters. Pioneer says moving cargo-handling activities inland presents fewer environmental impacts than expanding operations at the ports. Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said in a news release the rise in shipping traffic shows no sign of letting up. “Being surrounded by the dense urban areas of Long Beach and South Los Angeles, there is limited real estate available,” she stated. “The Mojave Inland Port is the type of innovative solution that will alleviate congestion and allow dockworkers to do their jobs more efficiently, getting goods to businesses and consumers faster.”

In Kern, distribution centers in recent years have been built mainly in Shafter, near the Grapevine and near Meadows Field Airport. The Inland Port project would appear to signal that more such development is headed to the Mojave area. Vice President Bill Deaver at the Mojave Chamber of Commerce noted the proposal has been around for more than a decade and that in all that time he has heard no opposition to it. His hope is the project will help the county replace the local oil production industry. “This is another new business that you can replace the old business,” Deaver said, adding he expects to see new investment follow announcement of the inland port. “You get more people, you’re going to need more grocery stores,” he said.