Press Room

Central Valley schools aim to reduce poverty through job training


Almost half of Fresno Unified students take part in career and technical programs. The training helps students as well as local industries that area struggling to find skilled workers.

On a recent school day in Fresno, Fernando Valero repaired a 32,000-pound diesel truck with failed sensors. Then he crawled under another truck before lifting it with a floor jack. The morning school work left his hands black from grease.

And his day was just getting started.

After lunch, Valero left Duncan Polytechnical High School and headed to a job where he’s paid as a regular employee. Much like his classroom labor, he works with technicians fixing trucks for local customers.

There is a good chance the 17-year-old high school senior will keep his job after he graduates in June. School officials say that’s the goal.

About a decade after a recession nearly crippled the nation’s economy and devastated the job market in California’s Central Valley, the region is still trying to pick itself up. But many education leaders hope that efforts to attract new businesses and train workers for skilled jobs are starting to work.

Valero is part of the 45% of Fresno Unified School District students who take part in career and technical programs, including medical, manufacturing and heavy-duty trucking. The pathways expose students to real-world industry work, and some, like Valero, are finding jobs while in school.

Jeremy Ward, executive officer for college and career readiness at Fresno Unified, said students who take part in career pathways consistently have a better graduation rate than students outside the programs. He said it’s because the pathway programs at each of the high schools are designed to satisfy student interest and the needs of Central Valley industries.

Most importantly, Ward said, the pathways offer students an invaluable opportunity: work experience and skills.

“It doesn’t take much to see how this benefits students who are in poverty, because it is providing them all those experiences,” he said. “It’s providing them all of that knowledge. It’s providing them real skills they can be able to take after high school to do something with it.”

The program is part of a district-wide effort. Several other Central Valley schools have developed their own career pathways. Cara Jurado, a pathway coordinator at Duncan High School, said partnerships among schools, industry and the state have led to increased investment in improving schools.

“We’re in one of the lowest socio-economic areas in town. Data shows that students from this area don’t tend to go on to high-paying jobs and that’s not right,” Jurado said. “We wanted to create opportunities.”

During school breaks, Valero is one of the few students who work eight-hour paid days. That has helped him gain knowledge and confidence from experienced workers, he said.

“If you don’t put in the time and effort, then you won’t be able to go where you want to succeed,” Valero said.

Pathway to success

Thousands of jobs have poured into the Central Valley from large corporate warehouses in recent years. But those jobs don’t always come with high wages. Some have even brought trouble for employees who are injured in intensive manual jobs.

As the Central Valley grows, efforts are underway to diversify industries and protect the economy from another recession. In diversifying and bringing higher-skilled jobs, a young, emerging workforce could prove critical to keeping those jobs local.

Eric Rubio, a heavy-duty trucking instructor at Duncan High, says this is uncharted territory. He said the skills gap is large enough where new technology like self-driving trucks and active-radar tools could overtake lower-skill jobs.

“The older technicians didn’t grow up with that technology. These (younger) guys have the aptitude and the tech-savviness to use diagnostics tools,” Rubio said.

Those changes in the industry require better-educated workers to perform the job, Rubio said.

Eric Rubio, (center), diesel truck instructor at Duncan Polytechnical High School’s Heavy Duty Truck pathway program, shows junior Asaya Kala (right) and other students the hydraulic cables connecting a truck to a trailer. Photo by John Walker/The Fresno Bee

Skills as currency

Manufacturers are struggling to maintain enough highly skilled workers. But Troy Brandt, general manager of Hydratech and chair of the San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance, said local schools training students for  industry jobs has helped significantly. Colleges in the Valley also have stepped up to provide training.

He said some of his best workers have come directly out of high school.

The shortage of experienced manufacturing workers can cause a shuffle of employees among companies offering better pay. But Brandt said as long as manufacturing continues to be strong, there is an opportunity.

“We wonder why we see so much of the middle class disappearing in this country. I would attribute a lot of that to the loss of manufacturing jobs. These are good paying jobs,” Brandt said.

Adapting to a changing work landscape is a priority for employers as automation and technology  improvements will inevitably eliminate many jobs.

A 2019 study from the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution found industries should adapt to automation rather than resisting. The study, which examined about 800 occupations across nearly 100 metropolitan areas, found that automation risks vary across the country.

Almost half of males 24 and younger and underrepresented communities, such as Hispanic workers, typically hold jobs that are vulnerable to automation. The flip side, according to the study, is that automation creates different jobs if workers can learn the necessary technology skills.

“If your skill set loses its currency, then you are in danger,” said Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board. “I think we need to try to figure out where this change is going, and then try to arrange for our residents and our citizens to be able to access training that makes them competitive in whatever environment that change creates.”

Fresno County offers employee training through the New Employment Opportunity program, which helps job seekers maintain jobs and teaches them needed skills that could help them obtain good jobs.

Companies that hire workers through the program get wage reimbursement help from the county if they keep the workers, according to Jenna Lukens, contracts manager with the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation.

“This is really to get people off of the public aid system, to get themselves self-sufficient for them and their families,” she said.

‘Regional investment’

Economic leaders in the Central Valley say that warehouse work may not be a silver bullet, despite the jobs it provides. An array of occupations is part of building a resilient economy so residents are not dependent on a single industry.

After the recession caused havoc because of a lack of occupational diversity, many Valley cities struggled to recover. In Clovis, the city council had an ambitious plan to bring multinational tech companies to the city. But the recession put a strain on those plans.

A decade later, those plans have slowly materialized. A large medical complex has sprouted in northeast Clovis, next to empty lots that also await new development, according to Andrew Haussler, community and economic development director for Clovis.

“The beautiful thing about health care is that it provides stable jobs that are relatively recession-resilient,” Haussler said.

The medical complex includes plans for the first medical school in the Valley, where there is a high need for medical experts. It’s expected to enroll the first class of students in August.

Recent efforts by state legislators have also advanced goals set by Clovis leaders, including offering two years of free community college to eligible students.

“When you talk about opportunity … you can go from Clovis High to Clovis Community College … you can transfer straight into California Health Sciences University and have your doctorate in pharmacy in five years,” Haussler said. “That’s how we truly grow economically. This is really a regional investment.”

‘A completely different place’

The Fresno metropolitan area has outpaced large areas like Los Angeles in economic growth since 2005, according to data from the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation. The biggest industries in the Fresno area are crop production and food manufacturing.

But tech has in recent years created a buzz, with Bitwise Industries and other software companies that have moved into the Valley. With a growing medical field and a stronger focus to train workers in industries like manufacturing, conditions could improve for the Valley, says Amanda Bosland, client services manager with the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation.

The development corporation and several other organizations have been  working on ways to attract new business opportunities to the Valley. That has led to the creation of the Central Valley Global Trade and Investment Plan, which was developed as part of the Global Cities Initiative from the Brookings Institution and JP Morgan Chase. The plan recognized the Valley as an “up and coming” region for the state’s economic development.

“I would gamble, in the next five to 10 years, Fresno is going to be a completely different place,” Bosland said.

The plan outlined ways the Valley can improve low incomes and unemployment and also suggested stronger global engagement, something Bosland views as critical.

“While poverty is a problem, it also means we have a large population hungry for something new,” Bosland said. “It’s not easy work, and it’s pretty slow work, but it’s being done.”

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado is a reporter with The Fresno Bee. This article is part of The California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequity and economic survival in California


Sticks are up at a development project at Herndon and Peach avenues in Clovis by the Marihart family, owners of 13 Prime Steak and PC Solutions. Photo by Falina Marihart

Published On February 5, 2020 – 12:37 PM
Written By Donald A. Promnitz

A long-vacant parcel of land in Clovis will be getting several new leases on life over the next three years, with construction officially under way on a pair of buildings.

The land — stretching 2.3 acres on the corner of Herndon and Peach avenues in Clovis — was purchased in parcels by Marihart Properties between 2017 and 2019. According to John, James and Falina Marihart, the family business started construction on phase one in November, which they expect to complete in the summer. Once completed, 4,000 square feet of the 10,000-square-foot building will house the new headquarters for PC Solutions. PC Solutions was founded by John D. Marihart.

“We’ve come so far since literally starting the company in my garage to now employing the best IT professionals and actively scaling our products for growth,” John D. Marihart said.

The remaining part of the building will be available for lease.

Phase two, meanwhile, is expected to begin sometime between six months and a year from now. Plans call for its completion in 2021. That building will be 16,000 square feet. James Marihart will manage the day-to-day operations.

“As we’ve all seen, Clovis is booming and the future is bright for businesses in the city,” said James Marihart, managing partner. “As each one of our buildings go up, more and more jobs will be created.”

Phase three is expected for 2023, according to the Mariharts. It will house a restaurant similar to popular steakhouse 13 Prime Steak, which is also owned by John D. Marihart.

“It’ll serve the community in that area — breakfast, lunch and dinner, possibly,” Falina Marihart said. “So it’s still going to be quality food and everything, just a different price.”

Target Constructors, Inc., out of Madera, Ca., won the bid to complete the construction on the projects.


Clay Gilpin

Published On February 3, 2020 – 11:41 AM
Written By Frank Lopez

It’s not news to people in the Central Valley that we have one of the richest agricultural regions in the country and the world.

The fertile soils of the San Joaquin Valley have been garnering attention from businesses in other countries — most recently, a well-established company from Japan.

Manda Fermentation Co., Ltd., founded in 1987, is a health food manufacturer in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, whose flagship product, “Manda Koso,” along with other fermented foods, has been spurring interest in the United States.

“We have seen an increase in fermentation interest,” said Tomoyuki Iwanami, chief creative officer for Manda Fermentation USA, the American branch of the company that is in its early stages. “One of the major turning points recently is the Kombucha (a fermented tea) craze. Fermented tea leaves are selling in San Francisco, natto fermented soybeans are gaining traction. Overall fermentation, the word itself, is spreading and there’s more awareness and consciousness towards it.”

“Manda Koso” is made of 53 botanical raw materials that are then fermented and matured for more than three years and three months. The process is free of preservatives and no water and heat is applied.

Fruits, grains, edible algae, and vegetables that the company uses from farms they either contract with or own are utilized so that no parts are wasted and consumers can get the full range of nutrients, such as the skin and leaves.

Along with selling “Manda Koso” and other health foods, Manda Fermentation also sells “Manda Amino Alpha” a fertilizer that uses “Manda Koso” for plants, and “Fermic,” a pet supplement that also uses the fermented product. It is also used for food for livestock.

Through a series of introductions with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., the heads at Manda were made aware of the San Joaquin Valley being one of the biggest agricultural centers of the world, and it made sense for them to start their U.S. operations in the area.

Last year, Manda Fermentation got connected to the Fresno State Department of Viticulture and Enology to conduct research on a fermented plant concentrate that could enhance grapevine growth.

The company will be using resources from Fresno State and other colleges in the California, such as UC Davis, for more research on the product and how it could be used in our area.

Clay Gilpin, market development manager for Manda Fermentation USA, who worked as the business support manager for the Fresno County EDC from 2015 until the end of 2019, is working for Manda facilitating connections in the states, as well as doing marketing and sales.

“Fresno State is one of the most practical farming universities, “Gilpin said. “Having that resource in the backyard is important. We are working with them now on projects — one is a study on the effects of ‘Manda Harvest’ on wine grapes. We are going to work with the business school on doing some market research. We feel like we are poised for a good launch.”

Manda Fermentation USA is still going through research and development before they decide on opening up a facility in the area, but it is something that they are keen to continue pursuing. Along with a facility, the company is also planning to survey properties that might be suitable for their operations, and also to build relationships with local farmers they could one day work with.

Manda Fermenation USA will have a booth at the World Ag Expo in Tulare Feb. 11-13 and at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim in March to get the word out on their product, and hopefully establish relationships with other companies in the U.S.

“The short term goals right now are getting to the World Ag Expo, then the Natural Products Expo, then hopefully start selling ‘Manda Koso’ in the U.S.,” said Yasuhito Nakajima, MBA, CEO and president of Manda Fermentation Co. Ltd. “We want the name to be out there, that’s for the short term.”

Fresno State Campus News
February 3, 2020
Link to this post

New construction plan in Clovis to help businesses rise

CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) — Construction workers are taking advantage of the good weather to hammer out a 10,000 square foot office building.

A portion of the space will be the new home of PC Solutions, a networking and data security business.

“PC Solutions started out of my brother’s garage 15 years ago with one employee and just fixing computers straightaway to customers, and we’ve actually grown to 13 employees now,” says Managing Partner James Marihart.

The business is looking to expand even more once they move into their new home at Peach at Herndon.

The complex is part of a bigger plan to eventually build a sister restaurant to the 13 Prime Steak at Willow and Nees.

“It will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and have a full-service bar, so we’re very, very excited about that. There’s not a lot of breakfast options in Clovis, so we’re excited to provide that benefit to the community.”

A look above the construction project from Skyview 30 shows the ongoing work. Phase one is an office complex, and phase two is an even larger business complex. The third and final phase is the restaurant.

It will be located at the most prime spot, closest to the corner of Herndon.

The partners will be looking to lease office space at this current location. Phase one of the project is expected to be completed this summer.

Taft College receives $156,000 gift from Chevron to expand Allied Health and Sciences Lab

Taft College logo (use this one)

Chevron will present a $156,000 check to Taft College to help fund the development of the Allied Health and Sciences Lab, specifically by providing medical equipment for expansion of its anatomy and physiology curriculum.

The ceremony will take place at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 5 in the Taft Chevron Innovation Lab. Lunch will be served immediately following in the Cougar Room on campus.

This donation will strengthen Taft College’s collaboration with Kern County schools by expanding classes for science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

“For years we have had a waiting list for certain science courses, which meant students had to delay finishing their coursework,” said Taft College Superintendent and President Debra Daniels in a news release. “Through Chevron’s generous donation we were able to double our science course offerings in anatomy and physiology, which will enable more students to get to their education goal.”

Chevron has partnered with Taft College for more than a decade, donating in excess of $1.5 million to support Taft College students through internships and connecting employees with students to discuss the industry.

CSUB receives largest gift in its history to establish Grimm Family Center for Agricultural Business

When you have a university located in a leading crop-producing county, having an educational agriculture center would seem like a natural fit.

On Tuesday, it became a reality for Cal State Bakersfield. The California State University Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the Grimm Family Center for Agricultural Business, made possible by an endowment created by Barbara Grimm-Marshall and Kari Grimm Anderson.

The $5 million, three-year pledge, is the single largest gift in the university’s history and coincides with the 50th anniversary of family-owned Grimmway Farms and honors the legacy of the company’s founders, Rod and Bob Grimm.

“Kern County is such a significant contributor to the fruits and vegetables that are consumed throughout our country. To create a focus on agriculture at CSUB that has been such a strong educational dynamic within our community just seemed like a great opportunity,” Grimm-Marshall said.

The idea to create a partnership with the university and give such a gift came through a family discussion, Grimm-Marshall explained. With Grimmway Farms celebrating 50 years in Kern County, family members wanted to give back to the community that has “given so much to us” over the years. They all agreed upon creating a center that highlights agriculture and business and opens students up to various opportunities within the agriculture field.

“We’re very grateful for the opportunity and are excited about the impact of what this will have in the future,” Grimm-Marshall said.

Though details are scarce at this point in terms of when the center is expected to be up and running, Jennifer Self, CSUB director of public affairs and communications, said it will be a game changer for the university and Kern County.

The Grimm Family Center for Agricultural Business will offer various educational opportunities to CSUB’s agribusiness students, who will learn by doing, gaining experience directly out in the field and working with experts immersed in the day-to-day enterprise of running successful agribusinesses, according to a news release. Local agricultural leaders will work with students, as well as collaborate with the university’s School of Business and Public Administration.

“Any time you can have a philanthropist support an organization like this, and at this level, it will take you from great to a center of excellence,” said Victor Martin, vice president for University Advancement. “The Grimm name has long been associated with excellence, and it’s what we’ll drive with this center.”

There are no plans to construct a building. Instead, it will be housed in an existing space.

By Aug. 31, the university hopes to appoint key personnel to provide programmatic leadership, develop the fiscal plan for the center, begin recruitment of the founding executive director, recruit advisory council members, develop relationships with the community and form regional partnerships, Self explained. A lecture series, forums and workshops, professional development, research, internships and scholarships for students are also expected to be available.

CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny said agribusiness is one of the primary needs in academics at CSUB, so she is looking forward to how this collaboration and partnership with the Grimm family will allow the university to support workforce development in Kern County.

“We want to serve our community, and ag business is one of the key drivers of economic development,” she said. “We need to leverage and collaborate with our partners to increase the number of students we’re accruing to be ag business leaders and bring up the economics of our community which feeds the world. It’s the right place and right time for this gift.”

It will take some time before the center is in motion, but Grimm-Marshall believes it can be a place for innovation that evolves as the field continues to change.

“Hopefully we’ll be nurturing and cultivating students with their education and learning opportunities where they see a future for themselves right here in Kern County, and I think that would be a really positive thing,” she said.

Clovis Community College #1 in California for students transferring to UC, CSU

CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) — One Valley school is setting a new standard for transfer students across California.

Clovis Community College students are setting goals from day one.

“When I started my first semester, I knew exactly what I would be taking for the next two years,” said former Clovis Community College student Mckay Duran.

For schools of their size, Clovis Community is the number one college in the state for the number of students that transfer to a UC or a CSU.

Mckay Duran is one of those students.

“That really made it a lot easier to keep my sights on my goals and dreams of transferring,” Duran said. “Because it wasn’t what I heard about community college and staying longer, no it’s two years, get those units, get those credits and get to Fresno State or wherever you want to go.”

After two years at Clovis Community, Duran transferred to Fresno State last fall and is currently a Political Science student.

“Meeting with counselors, they’re always focused on getting you to where you want to be and for me, that was transferring,” Duran said.

“Our students come here with the goal of transferring, and our faculty and our support staff are absolutely dedicated to giving them the support system they need, said Clovis Community College President Lori Bennett.

Administrators are planning to keep it that way, setting every student up for success regardless of their background. Clovis Community College is also number one for the number of Associate degrees earned for transfers.

New bookstore to open in downtown Hanford

HANFORD, Calif. (KFSN) — A local business owner is turning the page and opening a brand new bookstore in downtown Hanford.

Running a business isn’t new for Janie Isidoro. She’s been managing a shop in Visalia, but as an author, she always dreamed of owning her own bookstore one day.

“I’m a writer, so I had my books on my shelf, but then I started bringing in other books as well,” said Isidoro.

When their building was sold, and they had to relocate last November, Janie decided it was time for a new chapter.

“If we read it, it sticks in, and it’s really important to make sure we don’t forget those paperbacks, that feeling of paper in your hand,” Isidoro added.

She’s been spending the past few months preparing My Corazon, which will serve as a bookstore and retail shop in downtown Hanford.

“You come into a bookstore, you get to sit, and read, and open a book,” Isidoro said.

“I don’t think kids do that nowadays,” said Hanford resident Silvia Gonzalez Scherer. “I don’t think kids know what a real book store is and how wonderful it could be.”

The shop will include a section for local authors, Latino writers, used books, and a kids section.

“Our bookstore is not huge and 5,000 square feet, but we’re catering to our community,” Isidoro said.

First, they’re working on expanding their inventory and are asking for donations of all kinds.

“I’ve known a lot of people haven’t seen a bookstore in this town in over a decade, so this is going to be fantastic for the community,” Scherer said

My Corazon is set to open in early February.

California unemployment holds at record low 3.9 percent in December


  • Employers add 12,600 nonfarm jobs as record job expansion continues
  • Central Valley sees jobless rates much higher California’s unemployment rate held fast at its record low of 3.9 percent in December as the state’s private, nonfarm employers added 12,600 payroll jobs, according to data released Friday by the California Employment Development Department.

In the Central Valley, only Sacramento County had a jobless rate less than the state’s average. Adjacent Yolo County was at the state average while all other Valley counties had unemployment rates greater than the state average.

The job gains in December contribute to a record job expansion in California of 118 months, surpassing the long expansion of the 1960s. California has gained  3,422,900 jobs since the current expansion began after the bottom of the Great Recession had been reached in February 2010, accounting for more than 15 percent of the nation’s 22,688,000 job gain over the same timeframe.

California’s Labor Market, by the Numbers

  • The state’s unemployment remained at 3.9 percent in December, maintaining a record low in a data series going back to the 1970s. The number of unemployed Californians is the lowest since 1989, despite large gains in statewide population since.
  • The nation’s unemployment rate also remained unchanged in December, holding at 3.5 percent.
  • December’s 12,600 nonfarm payroll jobs gain was driven by growth in six of California’s 11 industry sectors. Professional & Business Services (6,500) posted the biggest jobs gain, fueled mostly by scientific research and development and advertising and related services. Educational & Health Services (5,200) also did well with job gains in dental offices and in-home supportive services leading the way.
  • Information, one of November’s top job-gaining sectors, posted December’s biggest jobs loss (- 3,900) mainly due to weakness last month in the motion picture and sound recording subsector.

Total Nonfarm Payroll Jobs (From a monthly survey of approximately 80,000 California businesses that estimates jobs in the economy) Total nonfarm jobs in California’s 11 major industries totaled 17,612,500 in December – a net gain of 12,600 jobs from November. This followed a revised gain of 24,000 jobs in November.

Total nonfarm jobs increased by 310,300 jobs (a 1.8 percent increase) from December 2018 to December 2019 compared to the U.S. annual gain of 2,108,000 jobs (a 1.4 percent increase). Employment and Unemployment in California (Based on monthly federal survey of 5,100 California households which focuses on workers in the economy)

The number of Californians holding jobs in December was 18,786,800, an increase of 56,400 from November and up 81,800 from the employment total in December of last year.

The number of unemployed Californians was 757,700 in December, a decrease of 4,100 over the month and down by 44,900 compared with December of last year.

Here are December’s unemployment rates for Central Valley counties:

  • Fresno – 6.9 percent
  • Kern – 7.2 percent
  • Kings – 7.7 percent
  • Madera – 6.8 percent
  • Merced – 7.9 percent
  • Sacramento – 3.2 percent
  • San Joaquin – 5.7 percent
  • Stanislaus – 5.6 percent
  • Tulare – 9.3 percent

San Mateo County’s unemployment rate of 1.8 percent indicates that virtually no one was jobless there in December, whereas one out of five adults (19.4 percent) in Imperial County was jobless in December.

In related data that figures into the state’s unemployment rate, there were 327,751 people receiving unemployment insurance benefits during the survey week in December compared to 293,595 in November and 338,747 people in December 2018. Concurrently, 50,116 people filed new claims in December which was a month-over increase of 680 people.