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MADERA COUNTY HOUSING BOOM COULD SPUR AT LEAST ONE NEW CITY

Brent McCaffrey, president of Tesoro Viejo and McCaffrey Homes, shows visitors from the real estate industry and local governments a model of the town center at Tesoro Viejo, a large, mixed-use community being built in southeast Madera County. Photo by David Castellon

Published On October 25, 2019 – 1:35 PM
Written By 

It’s been about three years since the groundbreaking ceremony for Riverstone, one of two massive planned housing developments being built off Highway 41 in southeast Madera County.

Considering the estimated scope of the project — 6,578 homes on about 2,000 acres — it may not be completed for 30 years or more.

But Riverstone and the other big Madera County development to the north along 41, Tesoro Viejo, aren’t just about home building.

In the mix

Both are mixed-use developments with plans to include commercial, comprised of spaces for office, retail and light industrial businesses alongside stylish homes and recreation options that include parks, community centers and trails that will allow residents to walk, jog or bicycle to the nearby San Joaquin River.

In fact, development groups involved with the 1,600-acre Tesoro Viejo development have erected a little more than 70 of the 5,190 homes planned to be built there, and they’ve already built a Madera County fire station and a county sheriff’s sub station on site, as well as “The Hub,” a welcome center for potential homebuyers, along with a restaurant and a brew house planned for the future.

 

Educational opportunities

Tesoro Viejo has also completed a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade elementary school, and even though only about 20 homes have been occupied, the school is fully operational with children from outside the development bussed in.

Eventually, the plan is for the elementary school to mostly serve children living in Tesoro Viejo, said Brent McCaffrey, president of Tesoro Viejo and McCaffrey Homes, the lead developer on the project.

As for Riverstone, the developers there held a second groundbreaking off 41 and Avenue 12 Thursday afternoon for Riverwalk, the first commercial portion of that project.

The plan is for Riverstone to have 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, with Riverwalk comprising about two-thirds of that, said Timothy Jones, a developer and principal in the company that oversees the development, Riverstone Development LLC.

“We have 95 acres along 41,” for Riverwalk, he said.

 

Multi-family in the works

And the commercial area — which unlike Tesoro Viejo will have no industrial businesses — will be mixed use, meaning that some residential and office spaces will be available above some retail and office spaces, Jones said.

In addition, beyond building the single-family homes in the residential portions of Riverstone, “We anticipate having some apartments, definitely some [condominiums] in the mix,” he added.

Riverstone began construction before Tesoro Viejo, and homes started selling there in 2017. So far, about 400 completed, single-family homes have been occupied, with at least 50 more under construction, Jones said.

 

Building ahead

As for the demand among homebuyers, he said, “We’ve got six builders in there now. We’ve got a couple more trying to get in, and we are building ahead of our expected absorption.”

Some experts have said Madera is in the midst of a building boom, in part because spaces for developments with natural areas have become scarce in the Fresno area.

“Years ago, you had to live on a golf course. New people are requiring outdoor living and trails as the No. 1 thing they’re looking for. In all our entire master-planned communities here in Madera County, that is a big emphasis,” Madera County Supervisor Brett Frazier said.

 

New neighborhoods

At Tesoro Viejo, McCaffrey said the home building will be divided into nine “villages” — essentially neighborhoods — each with its own park, while Jones said 20-23 small parks are planned to be built throughout Riverstone.

Both also are planning to build multiple community centers, while Riverstone’s plans also include the construction of three elementary schools, along with a junior high school and high school.

“The first elementary school is set to break ground in January of 2020” and open in August of 2021, said Jones, adding that even after Riverstone is more fully developed, the schools likely will serve not only students there but also those in nearby areas, including The Ranchos and Rolling Hills.

 

Startups welcomed

Among the selling points at Tesoro Viejo — where three million square feet of commercial space is planned to be built — and Riverstone is residents who may start up or work at businesses in the developments will be able to avoid the traffic and time involved in commuting to and from Fresno, Madera and other nearby areas.

And with the addition of restaurants and possible places for entertainment and shopping, “When people come into the town center, they will hear about the lifestyle, not just a home to live in or a school to go to, but also the social infrastructure where you can live, work, play,” McCaffrey said last month to a group of real estate brokers, local government officials — Frazier among them — and others brought in to hear about the development on a bus tour put on by Fresno State’s Gazarian Real Estate Center.

 

Way of life

In fact, he said his family has donated land to build a Catholic church in the town center.

“So we’re trying to create not just a development, but also the social fabric of the community.”

If this all sounds like a couple of cities in the works, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.

In 1995, Madera County supervisors adopted the Rio Mesa Area Plan, which included supporting residential and commercial development along 15,000 acres of then mostly farmland bordered by Highway 41 to the west, the San Joaquin River to the south, east toward Millerton Lake and Highway 145 to the north.

The plan was to merge those developments into a city, which would be the third in Madera County, after Madera and Chowchilla.

Tesoro Viejo sits in those boundaries, and McCaffrey said he expects his development and possibly some proposed to the south of his could be incorporated someday into a single city.

 

Town of its own

For his part, Jones said his development is far enough south of the Rio Mesa area that it’s unlikely Riverstone is unlikely to be rolled into a city with Tesoro Viejo.

But Riverstone already is a larger development in terms of acreage and number of homes, and on top of that, the developers own about 5,000 adjoining acres they want to get zoned for housing and eventually build an additional 20,000 residential units and dedicate about 600 acres of that for additional commercial development.

“That whole area out there could be another city,” Jones said of Riverstone, but he shied away from saying whether he would support that happening. “You know, we are so far away from that. We’re talking 20 to 40 years before that’s in contemplation realistically. So I can’t tell you the answer to that. I don’t know.”

He added, “I think the issues of becoming a city are complicated.

Central Valley Angels invest in cloud software

Central Valley Business Times

October 22, 2019

 

Take a position in Worksana’s parent company

  • “We believe in the concept”

The Central Valley Angel Group has added Worksana, a unit of Morro Bay-based Vendorver Inc., to its investment portfolio. Worksana is a cloud-based time system and mobile timetracking application designed for California labor law compliance. The software enables employers to track employees and manage resources more efficiently, the company saus.

“We believe in the concept and are convinced this is the management team to carry it forward, ” says Fund Chairman Emory Wishon. Worksana CEO and Co-Founder David Hergenroeder says the investment from Central Valley Angel Group “will help our company prosper in growth while in turn we help other businesses maintain efficiency and compliance with our solution.

” Formed in September 2015, Fresno-based Central Valley Angel Group is a $1 million+ fund whose members are accredited investors. It invests in high-growth, early-stage companies that are located within the region. In addition to making a return on its investments, the goal is to educate local Angel investors and create ongoing investment capital to help the Central Valley’s startup economy thereby retaining businesses and supporting job growth.

https://files.constantcontact.com/2cb20f61601/ca0229df-88ac-4ecd-99a7-ddbb9c2859b9.pdf

FOSTER FARMS ACQUIRES 19 NEW RANCHES; ORGANIC, FREE-RANGE EXPANSION PLANNED

Image via Foster Farms

Published On October 22, 2019 – 2:39 PM
Written By 

It’s a done deal after nearly a year of wrangling over the assets of Zacky Farms.

Livingston-based Foster Farms has completed the acquisition of 19 poultry ranches in the Central Valley, purchased as part of Zacky Farms’ bankruptcy settlement proceedings, says the company in a statement released this month.

The new ranches join hundreds of Foster Farms-owned facilities in California and more than 39 family-owned farms in Oregon and Washington. The new Central Valley ranches will allow Foster Farms to meet growing demand for the company’s California-grown, antibiotic-free, Certified Organic and free-range fresh chicken and turkey products.

The Central California ranch acquisitions come amid Foster Farms’ recent expansion in Merced County and the development of a new organic feed mill. Foster Farms remains family-owned and celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.

“From the start, Foster Farms has steadily grown through strategic purchases of highly desired land, poultry ranches and facilities in the West Coast and beyond,” said Ira Brill, Foster Farms’ vice president of communications. “Our continued growth in California helps to increase the availability of our premium antibiotic-free, Certified Organic and free-range chicken and turkey products for our valued retail customers and ultimately, to West Coast families who prefer Foster Farms for their chicken and turkey meals.”

https://thebusinessjournal.com/foster-farms-acquires-19-new-ranches-organic-free-range-expansion-planned/?utm_source=Daily+Update&utm_campaign=79167a39c9-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_22_08_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fb834d017b-79167a39c9-78934409&mc_cid=79167a39c9&mc_eid=a126ded657

2 years since its reopening, Fulton Street continues to develop

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — As thousands celebrated year two of Fulton Street’s reopening, Valley native Reza Assemi took Action News inside one of his latest projects.

“I bought this with a partner Jamin Brazil,”

Assemi is one of the developers behind buildings like Iron Bird Lofts, Broadway Studios and the old theater three. But now he is looking to turn this 1918 building on Inyo and Fulton into something new.

“We are looking to do commercial space downstairs so hopefully taprooms, entertainment-driven businesses and upstairs tech space,” he said.

Assemi tells Action News for over two decades he has envisioned changing the scope of this area.

“I love downtown. It’s rich with visuals, so that’s exciting to take something beautiful, neglected and bring it back. And the gravy on top is to make it entertaining,” he said.

And it is happening. Many people are glad to see what was once shut down now thriving.

“It seems like it turned around it’s a beautiful place to be,” said Shane Baker of Fresno.

“It’s kinda cool because I started to come down for the Fuego games and foxes and then noticing all beer gardens and cool events,” said Tony Dusan of Madera.

Mark Standriff with the City of Fresno says the reopening of Fulton Street has increased gross revenue and boosted the economy.

“It has grown over 1,500% which is an amazing figure, so this kind of growth is just the beginning,” he said.

And as Assemi works to continue investing and revitalizing downtown Fresno, people can be seen from the second-floor window of his next project taking in what he and many others hoped to create.

“It doesn’t exist without that interest without the public, so I really think they are the ones making this happen,” he said.

Assemi says construction on this project will likely begin next month. He tells Action News it might take about five months to complete, but he and his partner are hoping it will be ready by next spring.

https://abc30.com/2-years-since-its-reopening-fulton-street-continues-to-develop/5632356/

Merced County employment hits highest point in decades. Which jobs saw the most gains?

 

More people were working last month in Merced County than at any time in almost 30 years, and the number of people out of work was at its second-lowest point in September – a combination that drove the county’s unemployment rate to its lowest point in decades.

Estimates released Friday by the state Employment Development Department indicated Merced County’s unemployment rate was 5.5%. That’s the lowest it’s been since current tracking methods began in 1990. The previous low-water mark was a year ago, when the county’s unemployment rate was estimated at 6.0%.

Across the central San Joaquin Valley, “August and September are historically the months reflecting the lowest rates each year because of seasonal swings in agricultural employment and because schools have teachers and staff returning to work after the summer,” said Steven Gutierrez, an EDD labor market consultant.

The state estimated the number of people with jobs in the county at nearly 112,000, the highest number for any month going back to 1990. About 6,500 people were estimated to be out of work; that’s the lowest number since 1990. The county’s current population is estimated at almost 283,000 by the state Department of Finance.

The statewide unemployment rate in California dipped to 3.5%, the lowest since 1990, and down from 3.9% a year earlier. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the national jobless rate was 3.5%, down from 3.7% in September 2018.

September also represented new record low unemployment rates in Fresno, Kings and Madera counties. In Tulare County, the unemployment rate was 7.6%, well above other central San Joaquin Valley counties and short of the record of pre-recession lows of 7.1% in May and September of 2006.

The numbers released Friday are unprecedented for most of the Valley, said employment analyst Michael Bernick, a San Francisco attorney who served as director of the state EDD from 1999 to 2004.

“For most of the past 40 years, it’s been a double-digit unemployment rate, and in the Great Recession it was up above 15 percent,” Bernick said Friday. “The growth of health care and education (in the Valley) have led to a more diverse economy, and that’s one of the main factors statewide, too. Out of 11 or so major industry sectors, nearly all have shown job gains over the past year.”

SECTORS WITH LARGEST GAINS

Government jobs with local, state and federal agencies saw the biggest employment gains in Merced County over the past year, together adding about 1,300 jobs. Private-sector education and health services also grew by a combined 700 jobs. .

Bernick said concerns that he and other analysts had that international trade tariffs might harm industries of importance to the state, including agriculture in the Valley, have largely not been realized.

Instead, he said, California has experienced a long-term period of post-recession job growth that has already lasted for 9 1/2 years, dating to the early years of the Obama administration, “well beyond previous employment expansions.”

But, he cautioned, external factors including the national economy and potential effects of longer-lasting tariffs on international trade partners could derail the expansion.

Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, said he’s excited about the continued job growth in the region and the health of the local economy in a region that has historically had higher unemployment rates and lower average wages than most of the rest of the state.

“The old adage is that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Konczal said. “And although our boat is coming up less quickly than other parts of the state, it’s still coming up.”

Konczal said one particular bright spot in the Valley is the construction industry, which was hit hard when the house-building boom in the region collapsed in the mid-2000s, helping to spark the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009. “Housing is one of the areas now that is booming over and above the continuing high-speed rail project, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s funded for next year,” he said. “School districts are talking about more facilities construction, and we’re getting people prepped for those construction jobs.”

“We also have a small but important manufacturing sector that is starved for qualified workers,” Konczal added, referring to the stability of jobs producing durable goods rather than food processing businesses that typically see more turnover among employees.

Both Bernick and Konczal tempered their enthusiasm by pointing out what’s not included in Friday’s employment numbers.

“We don’t have a good handle on what we would call the ‘underemployment rate,’ or people working in multiple part-time jobs or multiple jobs in which the wages are not at the level where those workers have been before,” Konczal said. “There are lot of service-sector jobs where people are holding multiple part-time positions and trying to make ends meet.”

Bernick noted that in addition to making no distinction between part-time and full-time positions, the employment figures say nothing about how much the jobs pay.

https://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/article236418983.html

Economic event in Merced turned spotlight on San Joaquin Valley’s land, people and opportunity

10/08/2019  by Ed Coghlan

The University of California, Merced was a fitting venue for the Regions Rise Together meeting in the north San Joaquin Valley last week. UC Merced, the youngest of the UC campuses, is the first American research university of the 21st century. Its research agenda on issues of agriculture, water supply and sustainability, forest resiliency and ag tech mirrors the future of the region and the state.

It also is a university of the future in terms of whom it is educating, as interim Chancellor Nathan Brostrom told the gathering of leaders from the region, with first generation college students making up 70% of the 8,200 undergraduate student population.

Regions Rise Together is led by GO-Biz and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) in partnership with CA Fwd and the California Stewardship Network. The Merced event was the fourth of five joint strategy sessions held in inland California to gather input from local stakeholders to understand the challenges that face the inland regions as well as what can be utilized for future economic growth.

“The event offered unique opportunities to inventory the incredible assets of the Valley that both defined our strengths and opportunities and fostered in me a greater sense of how all of us can collaborate together to support rising up our region,” said West Hills Community College Chancellor Stuart Van Horn. “I was delighted to integrate higher education perspectives among and between the various workgroups and sessions.”

In addition to education, the region’s transportation, housing, workforce development, water and air quality and economic development were discussed.

“Again we heard the diverse voices from different sectors and different parts of the San Joaquin Valley coming together to talk about the future of the region that they want to see,” said Lenny Mendonca, the chief economic and business advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom and director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). For Mendonca, a proud native of nearby Turlock, this meeting was more than symbolic.

“We understand the underdog feeling of inland California,” said Mendonca. “Regions Rise Together is trying to change the mental map of California so there’s more economic balance across the regions.”

Assemblymember Adam Gray thanked Governor Newsom for attention paid to inland California and said it’s time to take advantage of the opportunity and attention that the Governor is giving the region—pointing out that the Valley has land, space, opportunity and the people to accelerate and sustain economic growth in the region.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen echoed the sentiment and said there is “historical cynicism” in the San Joaquin Valley of how the region is treated by the state, pointing that SB 1 was passed with great fanfare but included no money for Highway 99, which connects some many cities in the region.

Olsen also pointed out the region needs to be more insistent on adequate representation on State boards and commissions.

The interconnectivity of the state is felt in the northern San Joaquin Valley, where thousands of people commute to the Bay Area because they can’t afford to live there. Better transit is one answer, while many pointed out more companies could be located in the Valley where costs are lower and workers are plentiful.

Previous meetings up and down inland California have resulted in common theme. While much of coastal California sees inland California a certain way—inland California is not all the same. The differences noted in the three meetings held in the Inland Empire, Bakersfield in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and Merced show that each are distinct economies with distinct opportunities and challenges.

“The state is so complicated with so many different economies, it requires a sharp focus to make sure every region in included,” said California Forward CEO Micah Weinberg. “The Governor is committed to outlining a set of proposals and thoughts to make sure every part of California is heard in how we build a vibrant, inclusive, sustainable and resilient economy.”

The Governor will announce proposals for inland California at the 2019 California Economic Summit in Fresno on November 7-8.

CA Fwd noted that the success of the Merced event was due in great part from help from a number of local and regional partners including Andy Cheasey, San Joaquin Council of Governments; Cori Lucero, UC Merced; Dan Leavitt, San Joaquin Valley Power Authority; Frank Quintero and Stephanie Dietz of the city of Merced; Mariann Kaanon of Stanislaus Community Foundation; Moses Zapien, Community Foundation of San Joaquin and Steve Lantzberger of the Economic Development Association of San Joaquin County.

https://cafwd.org/reporting/entry-new/economic-event-in-merced-turned-spotlight-on-san-joaquin-valleys-land-peopl

WE’RE BACK, BABY! FRESNO TOP AG COUNTY ONCE AGAIN

Workers sort navel oranges earlier this year at Kings River Packing, northeast of Sanger. Photo by David Castellon.

Published On October 8, 2019 – 11:23 AM
Written By David Castellon

For the first time since 2013, Fresno County is the top agricultural county in California and the U.S.

This news comes with the Tuesday morning release of the 2018 Tulare County crop and livestock report, which shows sales of agricultural goods produced there last year totaled more than $7.21 billion, a 2.5% increase from ag sales in 2017.

In 2017, Kern County was the top ag county based on sales, followed by Tulare and Fresno counties, respectively.

But based on this latest crop report and those previously released, Fresno County shot up in the rankings to the top spot, with 2018 gross ag sales totaling more than $7.88 billion, followed by more than $7.46 billion in sales by Kern County farmers, ranchers, apiarists and others.

Although the data on 2018 ag sales isn’t in for all California counties and those in the rest of country, Fresno, Tulare and Kern have far and away been the top ag-producing counties in the nation in terms of ag sales.

For years, Fresno held on solidly to the first-place spot until Tulare County knocked it off that spot in 2014. After that, the top ag county title was held annually by either Tulare or Kern counties.

A big part of the reason for Fresno County falling short of the No. 1 ranking those years was due to California’s five-year drought that began in late 2011— the worst in the state’s recorded history — causing major water shortages in the western end of Fresno County that forced farmers there to limit their farming or let fields go fallow.

Weather and water conditions have since improved in the region.

As for the other South Valley counties, ag sales in Kings County totaled more than $2.35 billion last year and $2.05 billion in Madera County.

Those two counties ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively, among California’s ag counties in 2017.

It wasn’t immediately clear how they ranked statewide or nationally in 2018, as those tallies will not be compiled and disclosed until next year.

Madera, Kings and the other three South Valley counties all saw their ag sales totals increase last year.

For Tulare County, long the top dairy county in the U.S., it’s no surprise milk was the top-selling ag commodity in 2018, with sales totaling more than $1.68 billion. But that was down more than 5% — $93.1 million — from 2017 sales.

The report shows that the price of milk purchased from dairies declined from about $16.39 per hundredweight — 100 pounds — in 2017 by about a dollar in 2018, which reduced the total income dairies in the county received for their milk, even though production was up slightly.

It goes on to say that poultry and livestock values among Tulare County sales also declined slightly in 2018.

Sales of field crops rose nearly 9% from 2017 to 2018, which the county’s agricultural commissioner and his staff attributed to higher prices paid for them, while the 5.7% rise in sales of fruits and nuts is at least partially attributed to farmers expanding their production acreage of blueberries, pomegranates and tangerines.

Sales of ornamental trees and shrubs, as well as nursery-raised products, experienced even more vigorous growth over the same period of 47% and 34.7%, respectively, while sales of vegetable crops declined nearly 16% to $17. 2 million.

Part of the reason for the latter drop was due to farmers harvesting 931 fewer acres of vegetables last year compared to 2017, according to the crop report.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/were-back-baby-fresno-top-ag-county-once-again/?utm_source=Daily+Update&utm_campaign=bfd5b60568-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_08_08_31&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fb834d017b-bfd5b60568-78934409&mc_cid=bfd5b60568&mc_eid=a126ded657

How a massive Amazon wind farm promises to change a tiny town in rural America

KEY POINTS
  • Amazon announced three new wind farm projects in April 2019 as part of their goal to become net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
  • Large wind and solar farms create economic booms for rural communities.
  • Even after an initial construction boom, there is room for business growth.
H-O_WindPowerinTehachapi
The Tehachapi Mountain Range is home to around 4,731 wind turbines that generate about 3,200 megawatts of energy.
City of Tehachapi

Buried in the mountains of southern California lies a field of white. It’s not your typical farm: It produces renewable energy. The Tehachapi Pass is home to one of the largest wind farms in the world. Now a huge tech company is bringing more turbines to the area, and it is going to have an impact on a nearby community.

In April, Amazon announced three new wind farm projects — two overseas, and one in the Tehachapi (teh-HATCH-ah-pee) Mountains, located in southern California. The farms will help contribute to Amazon’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 and 100% renewables by 2030.

The mountain range is a hub for the wind industry, with around 4,731 turbines that produce about 3,200 megawatts of electricity along the mountain range, according to the Center for Land Use Interpretation, with private companies flocking to the area because of the high wind speeds. Farther north is the Altamont Pass wind farm, which helps power another tech giant: Alphabet’s Google.

Located just northeast of the mountain range is the town of Tehachapi. With a population of about 12,000, Tehachapi Mayor Pro-Tem Phil Smith called it a nice little mountain town, and while the power being produced from wind only comes to the town indirectly through the grid, Tehachapi gets something else directly as a result of the big renewable energy investments.

“The good news for us is obviously we have the economic impact,” said Tehachapi economic development coordinator Corey Costelloe.

Outside contractors come in to work on the wind turbines, staying in the town’s hotels and eating at its restaurants, like Kohnen’s Country Bakery, one of the town’s more popular local eateries. Family owned by Colleen and Thomas Kohnen, the bakery has been around since 2004. Colleen says the bakery is growing, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is because of the wind industry. Though she says that she does get customers who come from out of the city to work on the windmills.

“I had one guy come in last week, and I guess he was staying in a hotel during the week or something,” Khonen said. “And his wife and daughter came up to visit him. That just introduces people (to the bakery).”

Stephen Abbott, city renewables accelerator manager at Rocky Mountain Institute, says that small businesses seeing an increase in revenue is part of the initial economic boom that follows a renewable energy farm.

Keeping jobs local

According to estimates from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the construction of a 47 megawatt (the size of Amazon’s new farm) renewable energy farm could produce around 50 new jobs.

One company wants to keep those jobs in Tehachapi.

World Wind and Solar is a renewable energy maintenance company that moved its headquarters to Tehachapi in 2019.

WWS CEO Buddy Cummings has deep ties to Tehachapi. His father, Steve Cummings, installed some of the first wind turbines in the town. Cummings feels moving the company to Tehachapi is a homecoming of sorts.

“The relationships that got us into the renewables market are the relationships we grew up with,” Cummings said. “Tehachapi just feels like home.”

WWS has a goal of keeping their work local. Cummings says that he tries to hire Tehachapi residents, and use word of mouth marketing.

“We grow by people telling their friends and family,” Cummings said.

The company, which started in wind but has diversified into solar, requires workers to do general labor maintaining solar panels — cleaning and upkeep. The company hires workers to do that work for 60 to 90 days, and if they perform well, the company brings them back to Tehachapi for two to three weeks of training, teaching them how to do more technical maintenance on wind turbines and solar arrays. After the training they can become full-time technicians.

“It’s a quick and healthy way to get people work,” Cummings said. “It has such an opportunity to grow a career so fast.”

The workers coming in to train are spending their dollars at local businesses, like Kohnen’s Bakery, which cited the World Wind and Solar training period as a profitable time because the renewable energy company recommends it to trainees.

“The wind farms have generated quite a number of very good technical, good-paying jobs that can sustain a family and the employers have benefits,” Mayor Pro-Tem Smith said. “So the people in the workforce can look forward to actually a career in the industry if they want, and the pay is good enough where they can afford a home and stay here.”

Wind turbine technicians are making just over $54,000 a year ($26.14 per hour), according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. It forecast employment growth of 57% for wind turbine technicians from 2018 to 2028. In 2018, there were 6,600 wind turbine technician jobs in the U.S., according to BLS data.

api isn’t the only area that has seen an economic updraft from the wind industry.

Benton County, Indiana (pop. 8,700) has multiple wind projects developed over the past decade, one operated by Pattern Energy which supports electricity needs for an Amazon Web Services data center. The AWS farm, its first major renewables project, went into operation in early 2016, and Paul Jackson, director of economic development for Benton County says the area has seen gradual growth after big, initial booms from its wind farm projects.

“Everything kind of flattens out,” Jackson said. “The big boom is over, and you get into the reality of it.”

The Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge project is expected to make $5 million in economic development payments to Benton County over a period of 17 years. The project is entitled to 100% property tax abatements for a 10-year period, after which property tax revenue for the county will start being generated as well.

“Once wind farms came off of abatement, we are getting tax dollars. The tax money is fantastic,” Jackson said.

Between 2008 and 2018, taxes on Benton County wind farms have permitted the county to allocate an additional $3 million to schools, additional money to medical services, $35 million to new roads — upgraded roads were required to transport giant wind turbines to sites — and a total of $31 million in economic development payments to be made to the county through 2038.

A September article from the Wall Street Journal highlighted that farmers in the U.S. are leasing land out for renewable energy farms to help themselves in a difficult financial time.

“I think one thing we shouldn’t lose sight of is that a lot of farmers in the middle of the country are relatively strapped economically,” Abbott said. “Wind or solar can be a really useful additional revenue stream for people and those communities, particularly if it helps them get through a particular commodity down cycle.”

Facebook’s solar power projects

Big corporations want to build on cheaper land in rural areas and that, in turn, can help these rural economies from regressing to the mean by attracting follow-up projects.

Los Lunas, New Mexico is a good example.

The village has a population of roughly 15,000 people, and will soon be home to a Facebook data center, as well as solar farms to power it. The solar farm was an additional project that will help Facebook reach its goal of making the data center 100% renewable. Data center’s like this one and Amazon’s in Benton County are energy-intensive operations.

Both Las Lunas projects are in the construction phase, and are slated to be finished in 2023. Los Lunas economic development manager Ralph Mims says that the construction has helped workers, who previously had to work out of state, find jobs in the area. Much like Tehachapi, the village has seen a similar economic impact from big tech coming in.

“Since Facebook announced, we’ve got an uptick in our retail footprint,” Mims said. “We’ve had new restaurants come in, we have a third McDonald’s.”

Los Lunas also has several new housing projects that are in the works, but Mims believes that is because of natural growth, not only because of Facebook.

“Facebook of course has helped, but I would say that it’s a natural occurrence.” Mims said. “People want to live in a smaller town, taxes are cheaper down here, housing is super close to Albuquerque, we are about 10-15 minutes from the airport.”

Mims said that other companies currently operating under “code names” have inquired about land in the area, citing low costs and favorable weather conditions as reasons for likely future projects.

Abbott said there is little if any economic downside for smaller communities, like Tehachapi and Benton County, getting into the renewable energy business.

“Wind and solar provide a really important additional value and way to maintain the communities that are struggling in rural America, and have the potential to bring technical jobs and new sources of revenue and income to help support these communities during the energy transition.

 

Pistachio production, revenues on the rise in Kern

 

BY JOHN COX

If pistachios were a football team — and sometimes it does seem like they compete against almonds — they would be climbing the tree-nut power rankings.

Due partly to an exceptional 2018 harvest, pistachios surged two places last year to seize the No. 3 spot in Kern’s ranking of top-grossing crops. They came in just behind almonds and table grapes, the county’s sales leader.

The recent growth is phenomenal for a nut that has been cultivated in the Central Valley since the late 1960s. Kern growers’ pistachio sales jumped 91 percent between 2017 and 2018 to reach $1.06 billion, which according to county reports is more than five times their total a decade earlier.

It’s important to note almonds still lead pistachios locally in gross receipts for reasons that include global consumer trends and investors’ preference for a quicker return on their money. But county records show that while land dedicated to almonds in Kern has grown 70 percent during about the past 10 years to reach 234,670 acres, pistachio acreage is up 172 percent at 141,000 acres.

ALMONDS OR PISTACHIOS?

Behind these numbers is an agricultural community divided over the relative benefits and drawbacks of almonds and pistachios. Few local farmers grow both tree nuts, with the big exception of the region’s largest grower, Los Angeles-based The Wonderful Co. As such, discussions on the merits of growing pistachios usually involve a comparison with almonds.

The biggest differences between growing one or the other is crop heartiness and time to recovering initial investment. Pistachios have much longer productive lives, they can go extended periods without irrigation and are able to make nuts even in areas with low-quality soil and water.

On the other hand, almonds start producing a crop in just about three years — about half the time pistachios require. Not all investors have the means to hold out that long.

“You’ve got a long time when you’re pouring money in and you don’t get much out,” said Newfield Ag Management owner Josh Newfield, who tends to pistachio groves in the McFarland area.

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

Patient growers, however, are generally rewarded with a larger return on their long-term investment, according to analysts with Rabo Agrifinance.

Roland Fumasi, senior fruit, vegetable and tree nut analyst at the company, said pistachios’ gross returns per acre have historically been higher than those of almonds. What’s more, pistachio prices have tended to be more stable.

Although pistachio prices fluctuate more frequently, he said, they do so within a smaller range than almond prices.

‘A GREATER FIT’

Longtime pistachio man Carl Fanucchi, who has in the past grown almonds as well as citrus, said local conditions seem to favor pistachios. They can endure droughts easier, they don’t seem to mind relatively salty water — no small consideration as the state cracks down on the overuse of local groundwater — and their root systems are strong enough to withstand winds that frequently topple almond trees.

“Pistachios are just a greater fit down here,” said Fanucchi, an adviser and former orchard owner who at age 78 has worked locally with pistachios for almost 50 years.

Famoso-area pistachio grower Buck Klein said he, too, used to grow almonds and understands the cash-flow pressure that persuades some investors to grow almonds. But whereas almonds usually live no longer than maybe 20, 25 years, pistachios planted in the late 1960s are still producing nuts.

“My grandkids, great-grandkids will probably be taking care of stuff that I’ve planted,” he said.

WEATHER VULNERABILITY

Changing weather patterns could pose a problem, however.

There have been two disastrous years for pistachio growers in recent memory, in 2003 and 2015. The last time it was because an unusually warm winter threw male and female trees out of sync, leading to the production of a very large number of worthless, “blank” nuts.

The United States’ recent trade wars haven’t helped, either, even as tariffs on U.S. exports have been somewhat easier on pistachios. While China has levied tariffs on almonds and pistachios, India has spared pistachios while charging tariffs on almonds.

IRANIAN COMPETITION

Another challenge on the horizon may be Iran.

The United States is by far the world’s largest producer of almonds. But in the pistachio world, Iran has often challenged the U.S. lead in global production.

There is some concern in California, where almost all domestic pistachio production takes place, that Iran could bounce back from a bad year in 2018. If such a recovery happens, Iran could undercut the United States by selling pistachios to China and India at lower price, said Richard Matoian, executive director of American Pistachio Growers, a Fresno-based trade group.

Still, trading partners like the European Union appreciate U.S. pistachios’ reputation for higher quality and greater consistency, he said.

“For the discerning buyer, it makes a difference,” Matoian said.

HEALTHY CROP

Matoian said this year’s crop is looking good, though not quite as last year’s record-breaking crop, which measured more than 800 million pounds statewide.

This year’s crop will be smaller, he predicted, in part because pistachios alternate between heavy and not-so-heavy years. But things generally look up: Insect damage has been minimal and cool weather conditions have been helpful, he added.

Fanucchi said the bottom line is that pistachios simply perform well for investors, which he noted have included insurance companies and pensions that look for dependable places to put their money for the long term.

“It’s a very interesting tree,” he said. “It’s made a lot of people a lot of money.”

https://www.bakersfield.com/news/pistachio-production-revenues-on-the-rise-in-kern/article_e998dfa6-ec6a-11e9-9786-bf4461849821.html

Kernville, Bakersfield breweries combine for five medals at nation’s top beer festival

A pair of Kern breweries took home an extraordinary five medals at the Great American Beer Festival last weekend in Denver — a testament, the local winners say, to the county’s sophisticated approach to beer-making.

Kernville’s Kern River Brewing Co. took home two golds and two silvers, as well as the Brewery Group of the Year honor, while Temblor Brewing Co. in Bakersfield won bronze.

“I’m still trying to absorb all this,” said Eric Giddens, who owns KRBC with his wife, Rebecca. The couple had only just arrived home Monday after driving home from Denver.

At an event billed as the most prestigious beer competition in the world, the Brewers Association awarded 318 medals to 283 breweries across the United States. Some whole states didn’t win as many medals as Kern breweries did.

KRBC’s Belgian-style blonde, Nènette, won gold, as did the brewery’s session India pale ale, Gravity Check. Its brown porter, called Brown Claw, and its double hoppy red ale, Side Hike, won silver.

Temblor’s Belgian-style wit, Under a Blood Orange Sky, won a bronze medal.

Temblor’s head brewer, Mike Lahti, said the honor felt good.

“I’ve been doing this 16 years and this is the first (Great American Beer Festival award) for a beer I’ve designed,” he said. “One of those things that every brewer wants to do is get a medal at GABF.”

Lahti added that Kern’s strong showing speaks to the county’s emerging national reputation.

“I think it shows that, obviously, competition amongst ourselves has all helped us challenge ourselves to make better beer, to keep up with the competition,” he said.

Giddens said he and others representing KRBC celebrated the announcement of Temblor’s win as they were picking up their own medals.

“I think (Kern’s combined total of five medals) shows that the beer landscape in Kern County is changing,” he said. “I think people in Kern County are going to start taking notice and enjoying that beer.”

Though dwarfed by the brewing mecca of San Diego County, which won 18 of the 68 medals awarded to the Golden State in this year’s GABF, Kern’s brewing community has come a long way in the last several years. There are now five independent breweries in Bakersfield alone, with another on the way.

In all, the competition judged 9,497 beers from 2,295 breweries.

No brewery company won more medals at this year’s GABF than KRBC, which launched in 2005 and expanded in 2016 to a second location next door.

“What blows me away is that this was the largest beer competition in the world to date,” Giddens said. “For a small brewery in a mountain town in Kern County to come away as the most decorated brewery in the bunch just split my mind.”

https://www.bakersfield.com/news/kernville-bakersfield-breweries-combine-for-five-medals-at-nation-s/article_7034b2a6-e923-11e9-a43a-c3fa4dc75ca8.html