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– April 16, 2014

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Written on 04/15/2014, 1:59 pm by Business Journal staff
scorecard-community-college-completion-downCompletion rates dropped throughout California's community college system, a testament of the five years of deep budget cuts that stifled opportunities...
Written on 04/15/2014, 12:00 pm by Business Journal staff
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. paid more than $302 million in property taxes and franchise fees across its service territory, boosting revenues for cash-starved Valley counties. The company, which provides gas and electric service to 15 million Californians, paid $158 million in property taxes to 49 counties and 243 cities in which it operates. The payment, covering the period from January 1 to June 30, is in addition to the year's first property tax installment of $158 million paid in December. PG&E's entire property tax bill for the 2013 fiscal year totaled nearly $317 million, an increase of $11 million over the previous year. Fresno County took in $11.85 million of the latest property tax installment, up from $11.45 million last year, followed by Madera County with $1.68 million, up from $1.6 million. Kings County got $974,557 of the total, up from $900,000 the year before, and Tulare County received $389,583, down from $401,058. In addition, PG&E completed its 2013 franchise fee payments to cities and counties this month. The fees, which give the utility the right to use public streets for gas and electric facilities, totaled more than $144 million, an increase of almost $8 million from the previous year's payments. Of that, $40 million was for natural gas facilities and equipment and nearly $104 million was for electric infrastructure. A recent economic impact report showed that PG&E contributed $22.2 billion of economic activity and supported nearly 71,600 jobs in its Northern and Central California service area in 2012.
Written on 04/15/2014, 11:04 am by SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press
(AP) — The scarcity of irrigation water in drought-stricken California has created such a demand for well drilling services that Central Valley farmer Bob Smittcamp is taking matters into his own hands. He's buying a drilling rig for $1 million to make certain he has enough water this summer for thousands of acres of fruit and vegetable crops. "It's like an insurance policy," said Smittcamp, who knows two other farmers doing the same thing. "You have to do something to protect your investment." With California in a third dry year, well drilling is booming across the nation's most productive agricultural region, and some drilling companies are booked for months or a year. In some counties, requests for permits to dig new wells have soared, more than doubling over this time last year. Farmers expect to get only a fraction — if any — of the water they need from vast government-controlled systems of canals and reservoirs interlacing the state. In an effort to make up the difference, they are drilling hundreds of feet deep to tap underground water supplies. Smittcamp said a licensed driller he often hires approached him, saying the demand for drillers is so high that Smittcamp needs his own full-scale drilling rig. Smittcamp, whose Wawona Packing Co. farms thousands of acres, said he has written a $150,000 check as a deposit and the rest is due upon delivery of the $1 million rig, which he expects to happen soon. He estimates that he spends $4,000 an acre tending his peach and grape crops before the harvest. If a well were to run dry mid-season with nobody to call, Smittcamp said he could lose that investment — and perhaps entire orchards or vineyards. When the rig isn't being used on Smittcamp's land, he said the driller will put it to work on neighboring farms to recoup the investment. The boom driving farmers to such lengths is a result of drought and a steadily improving economy, said John Hofer, an underground water consultant and executive director of the California Groundwater Association. Hofer said his consulting firm started receiving more calls last year, and that's when he predicted the rising demand for drillers would follow. "I kept telling my friends and associates to look out, that it was going to get crazy, and it has," he said. "Drilling is up big-time." The figures prove it. In Fresno County, which leads the nation in agricultural production, officials issued 256 permits to dig new wells in the first three months of 2014, more than twice the number compared to the same time last year. That includes all types of water wells used for agriculture and homes. In Tulare County, the number of permits issued to dig farm wells alone has tripled to 245. In Kern County, farmers took out 63 new well permits in the first quarter of the year, more than quadrupling last year's number. The price to dig a well depends on the depth and ground composition, drillers say, costing a farmer anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000 before installing the pumps. Tapping groundwater has other costs. The water that was deposited underground naturally over thousands of years isn't being replaced as rapidly as it's being drawn, causing the ground in the Central Valley to sink in a process called subsidence. In California, there is little if any regulation of groundwater pumping by the state. In most years, Central Valley farmers draw one-third of their water from wells, while the remaining two-thirds comes from California's State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Most farmers expect to receive no water from either this summer, and that ratio is dramatically shifting to underground water supplies, which could eventually run dry. Matt Rottman, president of Rottman Drilling Co. based in Lancaster, said his mid-sized firm of three rigs is backlogged 15 months. For a recent job near Bakersfield, his crew dug a 1,840-foot well. Three wells coming up later this year in the Central Valley will hit depths of 2,000 feet. Farmers calling Rottman tell him they're in a pinch. They don't expect any water from the state and federal water projects this summer, and Rottman said the market price of buying irrigation water elsewhere has shot up three or four times. "They're shut off," he said. "They'll be looking at crop damage if they don't get wells in." Mike Maggiora, owner of Gillroy-based Maggiora Bros. Drilling Inc. and president of the California Groundwater Association, said he suspects that some drillers are backlogged because farmers are calling several firms to see who responds first. He's booked for the next three months. His eight crews work 24 hours a day for weeks drilling each well, which Maggiora said is a nice change from two years ago when the economy was bad and work was hard to find. Now, Maggiora said he has trouble finding workers willing to put in the grueling hours. He also fears today's boom will cause a run on supplies, such as the steel casings used to keep the walls from caving in. So he's ordering them by the truckload. Smittcamp said he worries that so much drilling could cause underground water supplies to run dry in little more than a decade. He blames politicians for failing to give farmers any other options, leaving them to fend for themselves. This summer, Smittcamp said he has to come up with two-thirds of his water that would normally come from the state and federal water deliveries. "This year, we get none out of the projects," he said. "So we've got to pump the whole enchilada."
Written on 04/15/2014, 10:51 am by Business Journal staff
A Fresno software company has raised $2 million in private investment to expand its suite of products geared toward the nonprofit sector. The investment brings Aplos Software's total funding to $3.4 million, according to a news release. The firm that provides Web and software-based accounting and donor management solutions to more than 10,000 users in the nonprofit sector was founded in 2009. The private investment will go toward new features in existing software offerings as well as an application interface that will work with popular Web-based software used by churches and nonprofits. “Nonprofits use a mix of online and desktop business software that is not made for their unique needs. This means time is wasted with complicated work-arounds and duplicating entries in multiple systems,” said Tim Goetz, co-founder of Aplos Software, in a statement. “Aplos is leading the nonprofit software sector into SaaS so nonprofits have one simple, integrated software designed specifically for their management needs.” The Aplos suite of nonprofit software includes Aplos Accounting, a fund accounting software; Aplos Donor Management, a donor management software; Aplos e-File, a tax-prep and submission software; and Aplos Oversight, a management software for accountants or administrators to easily oversee the finances of multiple nonprofits or churches. For more information, visit the Aplos website.
Written on 04/15/2014, 10:11 am by Chuck Harvey
Walmart believes a 107,000 square-foot former Mervyn’s location is a good fit for a Fresno supercenter as it kicks off a multimillion-dollar project to refurbish the interior of the store located at Ashlan and Blackstone avenues for a summer opening. The retail giant, now building smaller neighborhood stores as well, also likes the 41,000 square-foot size of the former Cedar Lanes bowling alley that it is refurbishing at the intersection of Shields and Cedar avenues in Fresno. Walmart expects good support for a supercenter and the smaller neighborhood Walmart market scheduled to open in 2015. One of the reasons it is downsizing some stores is the growth in e-commerce sales. Shoppers can order items online and pick them up at their nearest Walmart store. Still, Walmart plans to continue building supercenters that range from 100,000 square feet to 180,000 square feet. The bigger stores will be built in locations where vehicle and shopper numbers are high. One concern with the Ashlan and Blackstone location is an adequate number of parking spaces. Walmart shares the parking lot with other tenants in the shopping center. However, Steve Rontell, broker with Colliers International in Fresno, said the other tenants, including a furniture store and Petco store, are not heavy users of the lot. Also, an El Pollo Loco restaurant at Ashlan and Blackstone avenues has its own parking area, Rontell said. In addition, the new Walmart will have parking in the rear of the store for employees, said Rontell, who represented the landlord in the lease transaction. “We believe there is sufficient parking to serve our customers,” said Delia Garcia, director of communications for Walmart. The supercenter will employ approximately 250 workers on a full and part time basis. Average hourly pay is $13.08. Garcia said hourly employees would have the opportunity to work toward higher-paying management positions. A hiring center will open near the Ashlan and Blackstone avenues location in early summer, Walmart reported. Rontell said the deal with Walmart has been in the works for years. He said Walmart officials wanted to make sure the new store was not too close to other Walmart stores. Also, it had to pencil out in terms of attracting shoppers and potential sales. Smaller stores inquired about the space, but it was hoped the store would not have to be split up. “So Walmart was a good fit,” Rontell said. The Ochinero family of Fresno leased the Ashlan and Blackstone avenues property to Walmart. City officials were also pleased that Walmart decided to lease the space. “I’m so happy that Walmart picked Central Fresno,” said Clinton Olivier, city councilman for the 7th district. “I only see benefits.” Olivier said he is also glad Walmart is building a neighborhood store at Shields and Cedar avenues. Olivier added that in campaigning for reelection, he has not found any opposition to the stores. “I knock on doors and not one person has told me I am disappointed that Walmart is coming.” However, he pointed out that Walmart did not face public comment at a public hearing. Because Walmart is moving into an existing retail building, neither a hearing nor a permit from the city council or planning commission is required for the refurbishing projects. Still, the work is seen as a big improvement, considering the Mervyn’s store has been vacant for more than five years. “We welcome this private investment along the city’s major north-south commercial corridor,” said Ashley Swearengin, mayor of Fresno, in a release. “Projects like these, coupled with the city’s vision for improving Blackstone Avenue with public infrastructure will help give new life to this critical commercial corridor.” Some sprucing up at the location is also expected to discourage prostitution, gangs, crime and graffiti — all cited as problems in the area. Most of the work and expense in upgrading the Mervyn’s building has been in installing cold cases for perishable groceries, Garcia said. She said the exterior of the building would remain mostly the same, but would include new signage and decoration. Reeve-Knight Construction of Roseville is doing the refurbishing work. Along with food, the supercenter will carry value-priced general merchandise including apparel, electronics, toys and sporting goods. Food offerings include organic selections, fresh dairy and meat departments and fruits and vegetables. The store also features a pharmacy. “It will be one-stop shopping,” Garcia said. The Walmart Neighborhood Market at Shields and Cedar avenues will offer a full supermarket line of groceries along with some household products, pet supplies and pharmacy services. Fresno’s first neighborhood market opened near Herndon and Willow avenues in May 2013, followed by a Clovis location near Clovis and Shaw avenues in September 2013. Visalia received the Valley’s first neighborhood market in March 2013. Each store typically employs about 65 people. Garcia added that supercenters also have a positive impact on the community. They help to revitalize the area and bring back local shoppers, Garcia said. Also, businesses tend to invest in new stores once a strong anchor store is in place, she said. --- Walmart expansion in the Central Valley From large to small-format stores, Walmart has been on an aggressive growth path in the last year. 2015Projected opening, new Fresno neighborhood market (3131 N. Cedar Ave.) Summer 2014Projected opening, Fresno supercenter (4150 N. Blackstone Ave.) September 2013Clovis neighborhood market opens. (1830 Shaw Ave.) August 2013Kerman supercenter opens (4061 W. Whitesbridge Ave.) May 2013Fresno’s first neighborhood market opens March 2013Clovis supercenter opens (323 W. Shaw Ave.) March 2013Visalia neighborhood market opens (1320 N Demaree St.) Source: Business Journal reporting
Written on 04/15/2014, 10:08 am by Business Journal Staff
The International Agri-Center will host the 22nd Annual California Antique Farm Equipment Show, April 25-27 in Tulare. The event will showcase the agriculture industry's heritage with a focus on antique dairy equipment.  Hundreds of antique trucks, tractors and equipment will be on display, along with entertainment and demonstrations. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday. Activities include live entertainment, Dairy Dash 5K and Barnyard Olympics. The show also features dairy equipment demonstrations. Shoppers will find antiques and boutiques including clothing, home goods and jewelry and the swap meet for iron works, antiques and woodcrafts. For cooking enthusiasts, there's still time to enter the Rib & Dutch Oven Cook-Off.  Applications are due Friday and can be found online at www.AntiqueFarmShow.org.  A public tasting will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday. For serious antique equipment enthusiasts, hundreds of antique trucks, tractors, engines and farm equipment will be on display during the three-day show.
Written on 04/14/2014, 1:52 pm by Business Journal staff
The smell of Yosemite National Park will now be in homes across America as part of a line of fragrances by Reckett Benckiser's Air Wick brand. The eight limited edition scents by Air Wick are being released in honor of National Park Week from April 19-27. Working in partnership with the National Park Foundation since 2012, Air Wick experts came up with blends to capture the essence of plants and fruit found in America's iconic national parks. The aroma captured for Yosemite National Park is described as having "notes of wild strawberries fused with soothing mists of mountain rain for a wonderfully sweet and unique scent." Other fragrances in the Spring collection are a tribute to the Virgin Islands, American Somoa, Great Smoky Mountains and Kaloko-Honokahua national parks, as well as the brand new additions of Channel Islands and Biscayne national parks and Gulf Islands National Seashore. The full range of products, available in stores now, retails from $0.97 to $9.79 and includes freshmatic auto spray refills and scented oils. More information about the partnership and scents can be found at www.airwick.us/nationalpark/#.
Written on 04/14/2014, 1:41 pm by Business Journal Staff
Big Brothers and Sisters reports that the 27th annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake held March 8-22 at area bowling allies was a big success, raising $85,000 for its Central Valley mentoring program. The events concluded at AMF Rodeo Lanes in Clovis. Participants in the event got two games of bowling and the chance to win trophies, raffle prizes and the knowledge that through their contribution they have made a difference in the life of a child. The games were successful despite news that Kings County Bowl, where one of the events is usually held, suffered a ceiling collapse and would not reopen in time for our event. Many Kings County participants were able to come to the event in Tulare County and still take part. Next year, Kings County Bowl is expected to be a participating location again. This year, Bowl for Kids’ Sake brought with it a pair of celebrity volunteers. Former NFL and Fresno State wide receiver Bernard Berrian volunteered his time at events in Visalia, Fresno and Clovis. Berrian helped by handing out free T-Shirts to participants, and also made the day special by bowling with participants. Miss Clovis 2014, Morgan Edwards, volunteered to help hand out T-shirts and goodies to participants as they registered for the Clovis event. Not only did Edwards help Big Brothers Big Sisters during Bowl for Kids’ Sake, she also volunteers as a Big Sister in the program.
Written on 04/14/2014, 1:11 pm by Business Journal staff
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin has taken an early lead in her race for California controller, a Field Poll showed. The Field Research Corp. surveyed 1,000 registered voters in California from March 19 to April 5 to find out their favored pick to replace John Chiang as the state's chief financial officer. Of those, 28 percent of likely voters said they would vote for Swearengin in the upcoming June primary election. That compares to State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee with 19 percent support and California Assembly Speaker John Perez with 14 percent of likely voters behind him. Another 38 percent surveyed said they were still unsure of their choice. Swearengin, the only Republican running for the position, has 59 percent of the state's Republican vote so far and 7 percent of Democratic voters behind her, along with 61 percent of California's conservative vote, 16 percent of moderates and 1 percent of liberals. She also has 29 percent of likely male voters and 28 percent of likely female voters on her side, as well as 22 percent of those ages 18 to 49, 31 percent of those 50 to 64 and 30 percent of the 65-and-older crowd. Coastal county voters favor her at 26 percent, while those living inland have a little higher opinion of Swearengin at 33 percent.Ethnicity also made a difference with Swearengin holding 31 percent of the white or non-Hispanic vote," 15 percent of the Latino vote and 20 percent of those identifying as black, Asian or other.
Written on 04/14/2014, 11:02 am by Business Journal staff
Fresno State is doing its part to alleviate California's drought with a water conservation plan that aims to reduce campus water usage by 20 percent next year. The plan follows actions the university has taken already to cut back on water. In the past five years, Fresno State's farm has reduced its water usage by more than 40 percent by watering orchards with micro-sprinklers, rotating mini sprinklers that operate at low pressure and vineyards and vegetable crops that are watered with drip irrigation. For landscaping, Fresno-based Aqua Cents has begun injecting certain lawns on campus with its organic hydrogels that improve absorption of water and nutrients at the root zone. As part of the latest plan, Fresno State will limit irrigation to once inch per week during growing season, transition to low-flow sprinkler heads and expand electronic monitoring of flow in irrigation pipes. Lawn care staff will also change the fertilizer blend to help turf thrive with less water. All new landscapes will be planted with native or low-water species, some of which will replace existing plants as well. Future building projects, such as the Jordan Research Center, are being dual plumbed to use non-potable water where possible. Grounds around new building will not include berms and will feature drought-tolerant plants as outlined by the Campus Master Plan. This spring, 25 percent of the horse pastures between Barstow and Bullard avenues will be changed to micro-sprinklers. Taken together, the new measure are expected to save the university 59.8 million gallons of water next year. Irrigation makes up the largest share of water used at Fresno State. Of the 299 million gallons of water pumped and treated by the university's water system in 2008, 191 million gallons were used for irrigating landscapes and crops.

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