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Men and women looking for work line up outside the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium for information about possible jobs in the construction trades. (Business Journal photo by Elizabeth Stevens)

Men and women looking for work line up outside the Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium for information about possible jobs in the construction trades. (Business Journal photo by Elizabeth Stevens)

Web first version: Info fair opens doors to apprenticeships, jobs building state health care facility

Central Valley Business Journal, January 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Hundreds went to the job info fair at the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium. Elizabeth Stevens

Hundreds of them showed up today in search of what has been so elusive for so many – a job.

They began lining up early at the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium in downtown Stockton for the construction jobs information fair sponsored by the city and the contractors building the California Health Care Facility south of Arch Road.

“I got here at 6 a.m. to be the first in line,” Joe Medrano, standing in line with his son, Jesse, said in the morning chill.

“It’s very, very important,” Medrano said of the event and the opportunity it offered. “It’s a matter of life.”

He said he recently returned to his native Stockton from Big Bear to be closer to his son and grandchildren.

“I just want to get my foot in the door, get some employment, and get reestablished here,” said Medrano.

“I just got married,” said his son. “It’s really important to get a job.”

Both men had professional experience in the trades and were hoping to find something inside the auditorium to help them garner a job.

The Madranos beat Tony Mayfield to the front of the line by 10 minutes. A journeyman painter out of work a year and a half, Mayfield also has been a professional handyman with his own business – Another Honest Day’s Work – in San Francisco and Oakland. Now living in Stockton, the 50-year-old Mayfield is hungry to get back to work, even if it is as an apprentice.

“I’ve been hitting the pavement every day looking for work,” said Mayfield. “I want to show by example to the younger folks about being employed.

“As you can see,” Mayfield said, looking back at the line that was forming outside the auditorium, “there aren’t many young people here.”

And while the front of the line seemed to be made up of men and women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, younger adults also arrived to the event to talk with contractors, subcontractors, union representatives, apprenticeship coordinators, and agencies offering pre-apprenticeship training. There were about 200 people in line before the doors opened and well more than 600 had gone through the doors in the first two hours alone. A final tally of the attendees was not immediately available.

“I think it’s a great turnout,” said Ken Adams, project manager for Granite Construction. “There are a lot of good people coming through the door looking for work. It’s impressive to look at the resumes of some of these people.”

The state of the economy means some people who once owned contracting business are now looking for stable work.

“People building million dollar homes now are willing to turn a shovel,” said Adams.

Granite is in a joint venture with Hensel Phelps Construction Co. to build a portion of California Health Care Facility, Stockton, a massive mental and medical care facility south of Arch Road and east of state Highway 99.

“Real good,” Seth Boles, operations manager for Hensel Phelps Construction Co., said of the fair turnout less than two hours into the event. “I think we met the expectations or exceeded them.”

“It’s a good crowd,” agreed Doug Wilhoit, chief executive officer of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce. “And the businesses are well represented here today.”

Wilhoit said he hoped the jobs information fair helped attendees “to find as many jobs as possible.

“And I’m to see young people,” added Wilhoit, as two men in their late teens or early 20s walked by after visiting several booths.

“This construction fair will provide an opportunity for you and other construction job seekers to learn about potential construction employment opportunities – opportunities at the construction site for the new California Health Care Facility and opportunities associated with the city of Stockton, San Joaquin County Public Works, Caltrans, and other agencies,” read a portion of the flier attendees were handed as they entered the auditorium.

“Representatives from the building trade unions and apprenticeship programs are also here.”

In all, there were 61 vendor booths, from Granite/Hensel Phelps and Clark/McCarthy to city, county and state agencies to help attendees navigate through the process. Union locals representing iron workers, plumbers, roofers, heating and cooling techs, carpenters, masons, and more were on hand.

There will be 5,500 union and nonunion construction jobs at the site – 1,200 by the Fourth of July and 1,700 on any given day throughout the project – with most of them being filled by workers from within 50 miles of the site. Of the total, 20 percent will be filled by apprentices.

And that really was a focus of the event sponsored by the city of Stockton, Clark/McCarthy, and Granite/Hensel Phelps. Several pre-apprentice and apprentice programs were on hand with representatives eager to provide information about learning a trade that could be used on the California Health Care Facility project and beyond.

While wages for the jobs vary widely based on trade, training, experience, location of jobs, concessions made to win a contract, and more, informational material handed out by union locals provide a glimpse at what a worker can earn. An apprentice working with drywall might earn $18.46 to $30.51 per hour, depending on their progress in the apprenticeship program. An apprentice carpenter might earn just under $19 to just more than $30 per hour. An apprentice electrical worker might earn $14.85 to $28.05 per hour.

Turn to the February edition of the Central Valley Business Journal for more on the California Health Care Facility, Stockton project. Visit http://www.chcfstockton.com, http://www.clarkmccarthychcfstockton.com, or http://www.granitehenselphelpschcf.com for more information on the project and possible employment opportunities.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

California Health Care Facility, Stockton construction

The first building at the California Health Care Facility, Stockton, goes up. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Web first version: Jobs, jobs, jobs ahead at prison’s medical, mental health facility near Stockton

Central Valley Business Journal, January 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Earth movers are digging trenches and leveling grade, cranes are hoisting walls into place, and riding trowels are hovering over freshly poured cement.

And men and women are being put to work on perhaps the largest construction project in California in a decade – the 1,722-bed California Health Care Facility, Stockton just southeast of the intersection of Arch Road and Logistics Drive east of state Highway 99.

At this point, only a couple hundred men and women are working at the site, but in time more – many more – union and nonunion tradesmen and women will be put to work. There will be 5,500 construction jobs with 1,200 workers on hand by the Fourth of July.

Construction workers pour concrete to form walls that will be used to build the California Health Care Facility, Stockton. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Construction workers pour concrete to form walls that will be used to build the California Health Care Facility, Stockton. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

“This is really is a red letter day for the city of Stockton,” Mayor Ann Johnston said a luncheon and tour of the construction site. “For the public to see what’s going on here is important.

“This is a good thing that’s happening in our community,” she added. “This is a bright spot in our community.”

Construction workers pour concrete to form walls that will be used to build the California Health Care Facility, Stockton. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Construction workers pour concrete to form walls that will be used to build the California Health Care Facility, Stockton. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Contractors, project managers, heavy machine operators, and the alike have been working at site for a couple of months leveling the grade, digging trenches for drainage and sewer lines, and setting conduits for electrical work. With construction estimated at $700 million to $750 million, as many as 1,700 construction workers will be on the site on a given day. As much as 20 percent of the workforce on the project will be in apprenticeship programs learning a trade that they can take with them to other projects. The bulk of the workers and subcontractors for the project will come from within 50 miles of the project site.

The economic impact from construction alone is expected to be $1 billion. The construction has been highlighted – along with the “Marine Highway” expansion at the Port of Stockton – in economic forecasts for providing momentum in moving San Joaquin County and the rest of the Central Valley out of the recession.

And once the facility is completed and inmates are housed there in December 2013, there will be 2,400 permanent civil service jobs with an annual payroll of $220 million.

“This is an example of how we have moved from a contentious situation to a partnership of partners and friends,” Douglass Wilhoit, chief executive officer of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, said in praising the “very, very fair” process to eliminate early contentions.

One of the “win-win” results, said Wilhoit, was a 25-bed secure unit at the San Joaquin County General Hospital for inmates requiring medical procedures that won’t be handled at the state facility. There is also a partnership with San Joaquin Delta College to expand its accredited psychiatric technician program and necessary infrastructure improvements will be carried out.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and joint venture contractors Clark/McCarthy and Granite Hensel Phelps JV hosted the tour and luncheon January 5th to show off the progress.

“This is a huge project for any contactor,” Mike Ricker, vice president of the Clark/McCarthy joint venture, said over the ruckus of heavy equipment being used to dig plumbing trenches for the first housing unit. He said this was one of a handful of similarly sized projects in the state and perhaps one of a dozen in the entire nation.

It is not just the bulk of the project, said Shannon Gustine, Hensel Phelps

Construction Co.’s project manager, it is also about how quickly things will be built. The deadline for inmates to be in the facility is Dec. 31, 2013, which means the contractors must be finished several months before that to allow time for various inspections and certifications of the massive facility. Buildings will total nearly 1.2 million square feet on 144 acres.

“It’s basically a small city,” added Mike Meredith, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s project director. “It’s got everything you’d need.”

A construction worker at the California Health Care Facility, Stockton site prepares for a crane to drop another wall into place. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

A construction worker at the California Health Care Facility, Stockton site prepares for a crane to drop another wall into place. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Besides housing for 1,722 inmates, the facility will have a central utility building, patient-inmate housing clusters, diagnostic and treatment center, warehousing and support facilities, visitor and staff entry building, a central kitchen, and staff training facility. And all LEED Silver certified.

Of course, it also will have a 13-foot tall lethal electrified fence between two perimeter fences, 11 45-foot tall guard towers, external lighting, and 24-hour patrol.

A jobs information fair will be held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6, at the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium, 535 N. Center St., in downtown Stockton. The contractors, state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, subcontractors, trade unions, the city of Stockton, and others will be there with information on applying for jobs at the site and for joining apprenticeship programs to learn trades.
Turn to the February edition of the Central Valley Business Journal for more on the California Health Care Facility, Stockton project. Visit http://www.chcfstockton.com for more information on the project.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

Customer service adds up for ‘numbers’ firm

Laura Strombom, proprietor of All About Numbers Inc., mentors her employees to put the client first and to think about their “big picture” when doing tax returns. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Laura Strombom, proprietor of All About Numbers Inc., mentors her employees to put the client first and to think about their “big picture” when doing tax returns. (Business Journal photo by Keith Michaud)

Changes to make for ‘interesting tax season’

Central Valley Business Journal, January 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Laura Strombom’s business seems, well, not quite by the numbers.

Oh, sure, All About Numbers Inc. offers a variety of personal finance and business services – income tax preparation, bookkeeping, payroll, accounting, accounting software support, business consulting.

But her business philosophy – or, perhaps more accurately, her life philosophy – seems a bit more personal than columns of ledger entries.

“A lot of it is taking the time to see the client as a person and not just a dollar figure,” Strombom said from her Feather River Drive office not far from the drone of Interstate 5. Her office has a cluttered, but organized look – neat stacks of papers and binders – with statuettes and images of horses on the shelves and hung on the wall, and a friendly 18-month-old Rottweiler named Berry Pie eager to lick a stranger’s hand when she is not bedded down behind Strombom’s desk.

“I love what I do,” said Strombom. “Every (tax) return is a puzzle. The challenge of the puzzle is to offer value to the client, pay the least tax possible, and stay in compliance of the law. I love puzzles. … That makes my job fun.”

Strombom, who has a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s degree in business administration from Golden Gate University, started her business in 1995. She is an enrolled agent, which authorizes her to represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. Named 2004 Business Person of the Year by the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, Strombom has taught accounting in the past and teaches a basic tax course that allows those who pass the opportunity to become certified tax preparers.

She is “passionate” about mentoring her nine employees – some will work for Strombom for three to four years before she feels they are ready to prepare tax returns for clients. She wants them to be ever watchful of the details, while keeping the “big picture” for the client in mind. That and the hours upon hours of annual continuing education enrolled agents must endure reflects the dedication Strombom has to her profession and her clients.

“Our business is cyclical,” said Strombom. “January through April is extremely busy, with May to August steady.” There’s also a “mini-rush” in October for those clients who have filed extensions.

“This year has been busier than normal,” Strombom said of a November and December surge in business. “We’re dealing with a lot more audits.”

The Internal Revenue Service and the agencies responsible for collecting the state’s share of taxes and fees are taking far more aggressive stands than before on discrepancies in tax returns with some taxpayers paying fines for infractions that might have been overlooked when government coffers were closer to being flush.

“We get a lot more volume of fishing expeditions,” Strombom said.

It is not that the IRS is charging more penalties, said Strombom, but that the federal agency seems less willing to abate those penalties it might have in the past.

But the IRS still seems willing to work out payment plans.

“They are still reasonable in that department,” she said. “The IRS will work with you on a payment plan. The state of California will not.”

Many times, said Strombom, taxpayers make mistakes – such as making rushed decisions and not thinking through how to handle depreciations – that hurt them for years to come. The after effects of home foreclosures continue to cause havoc for some taxpayers, said Strombom.

Changes in the tax code, additional forms, and a more aggressive attitude from the taxman will makes for a “very interesting tax season.”

“Even within the IRS there are different interpretations of the rules and this is a huge, huge mess,” said Strombom.

Taxpayers should seek help in dealing with complicated tax issues before they get overwhelmed.

“I receive phone calls after the fact,” said Stombom. “They really should call before (a major financial change). … There are a lot of people who will get bad information from the wrong people. ‘My cousin said this. My hairdresser said that.’”

And taxpayers should not feel uncomfortable in getting a second opinion on a tax return, whether they did it themselves or hired a tax preparer.

“Absolutely get a second opinion,” she said. “Before you file the wrong information, have it checked out.”

Visit http://www.allaboutnumbers.com for more information about All About Numbers.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

Zeiter Eye marks 50th anniversary, continues to grow

Central Valley Business Journal, January 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Doing anything for 50 years is noteworthy.

Doing it well, staying abreast of state-of-the-art advances, growing along the way, and leaving behind a legacy and tradition of philanthropy, that’s truly impressive.

“I’m excited about where we’ve been the past 50 years,” said Dr. John Zeiter, CEO of Zeiter Eye Medical Group Inc., which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012. “I’m excited about where we’re going.”

With the addition of Joseph Zeiter Jr. this summer, three generations of Zeiters will have taken care of eyes in the Central Valley, building upon the foundation laid by Dr. Henry Zeiter, John’s father, when he opened a downtown Stockton office in 1962.

“Things are awesome,” said John Zeiter of the practice that now has offices in Stockton, Lodi, Manteca, Tracy, and Sonora. “We’re all working hard and we’re all taking care of a lot of eyeballs. … Health care has been one of the fields that have been fairly resilient to the recession.”

While elective procedures may be down, said Zeiter, basic and necessary eye care have allowed Zeiter Eye Medical Group to weather the recession.

But it takes more than just that to keep a business going for 50 years.

“I attribute that to paying attention to patients,” Zeiter said of the practice’s longevity. “You have to listen to their concerns and you can’t ignore the patients’ problems. … We take good care of our patients.

“I think that’s how you stay in business,” said Zeiter. “It’s a people business. You take care of the patients.”

Fast-changing bureaucracy, lower reimbursement rates for Medi-Cal and Medicare services, and the ever increasing cost of doing business have added challenges to providing health care.

“How does that change what we do? It doesn’t. We take care of our patients,” said Zeiter. “I think all of us in our practice are passionate about what we do. … Making someone see again is a pretty satisfying thing. That’s good.”

That passion and dedication is rooted in the elder Zeiter, who was born in the mountains of Lebanon in 1934 and raised in Venezuela and Canada. He eventually graduated from college summa cum laude with degrees in English literature and history. He graduated from medical school four years letter at 23.

He trained in eye surgery at the prestigious Kresge Eye Institute in Detroit and in 1962 relocated to the Hunter Building on Hunter Street in Stockton. His innovations in cataract surgery made him a pioneer in the field.

Two years later he bought a building downtown, said John Zeiter, which was rebuilt after it was damaged by fire. The practice’s business offices and a small clinic remain there, said John Zeiter, as part of his father’s commitment to downtown.

Henry Zeiter is known for his philanthropic contributions to the local arts community and to the eye care of those who might not be able to pay for sight-saving services. That philanthropic effort continues to this day.

“My Dad always had a big heart for the indigent and Medi-Cal patients,” said John Zeiter.

Henry’s nephew, Dr. Joseph Zeiter, joined the practice in 1981 and now is the chief financial officer of the practice. His arrival spurred a growth that has yet to stop. John Zeiter, who joined the practice in 1992, said the growth will continue this year with an expanded surgical center on March Lane next to its offices there and with the arrival of Joseph Zeiter Jr.

“When we bring in Joe’s son, it’ll be great,” said John Zeiter. “I think when Joey gets here in July we’ll have some sort of event to mark the anniversary.”

In addition to regular eye examinations and optical shops, Zeiter Eye Medical Group offers glaucoma prevention and treatment, treatment for diabetic retinopathy, athletic vision solutions, and LASIK, cataracts, and cosmetic surgery, including the availability of BOTOX.

Drs. John Canzano, Richard Wong and Harold Hand, also all board-certified ophthalmologists, all practice at the Zeiter Eye Medical Group offices. Dr. Kimberly Cockerham is the latest full-time addition.

“It’s a family,” said John Zeiter. “We’ve always called our partners, our employees, the Zeiter family.”

He said that even Cockerham, who has worked part-time for the medical group for years and before becoming a full-time member of the staff, shares that feeling. “She kids around that she’s Kim Zeiter Cockerham,” quipped Zeiter. “Everyone treats everyone like family, even our new partners.”

That feeling of family, said John Zeiter, is something that also comes down from his father, Henry.

Visit http://www.zeitereye.com to learn more about Zeiter Eye Medical Group.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

Hispanic Chamber hosting forecast conference

Central Valley Business Journal, January 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Mark Martinez loves it when the eyes of business owners brighten with the realization that forecasting information can tell them so much about where their business is and where it can go.

Martinez, the chief executive officer of the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, expects to see that expression quite a bit on Jan. 19 when his agency hosts its second annual Business Forecast Conference.

Mark Martinez

Martinez

“This is a very valuable tool,” said Martinez of business forecasting. “So many business owners are so focused on running their businesses that often times they don’t research the global economy and how it affects them locally.”

Most small business owners have never seen a business forecast, said Martinez. It is satisfying when they do and the “light goes on in their eyes.” It is then that they understand how the global economy affects local business, he said.

Sylvester Aguilar,

Aguilar

At last year’s Business Forecast Conference it was a local body shop owner who could not quite pinpoint the drag on his business, said Martinez. The business owner was able to shift customer service, marketing and overall business strategy after hearing the forecast and realizing that several factors were at work – transportation was down, commuters being laid off, general economic downturn.

Organizers believe the conference is unique in the region because it looks at the global, national, state and local

Mark Plovnick

Plovnick

influences on the regional economy and because it is open to the public – such economic forecasting events usually are invitation-only.

“If you’re not in the top tier, you might not be invited (to other economic forecasting events),” said Sylvester Aguilar, senior vice president and regional manager of Bank of the West and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s treasurer. “What we asked our speakers to do was to drive it down to that business right here.”

The event also will have an impressive list of keynote speakers – Jeffrey Michael, director of the University of the Pacific’s Business Forecast Center, and Michael Stead, director of capital markets for Bank of the West – and discussion panelists. Those panelists include Fritz Grupe of The Grupe Co., Jose Blanco of Central Valley Fund, Bruce Blodgett of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, and Corwin Harper, senior vice president and area manager for Kaiser Permanente.

“The idea of the conference came from literally thinking ‘What’s occurring in the economy?’” said Martinez. “It can be very confusing to know what’s going on in the economy.”

He said information in one news story might provide an upbeat look at the economy, while the next story might indicate quite the opposite.

Organizers want to show the impact the global economy has on local businesses to show local businesses owners what to expect so they can make adjustments in the coming year.

Aguilar said Pacific and Bank of the West used sophisticated models using government data for the information to be presented on Jan. 19.

Mark Plovnick, Pacific’s economic development director, said the university’s partnership with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, San Joaquin County, and Bank of the West in presenting the conference is a “happy marriage.”

He said the latest quarterly report from Pacific’s Business Forecast Center showed at least a glimmer of hope that the economy was improving. While the general improvement is slow and steady, that report pointed to two major projects – the Port of Stockton’s expanding services to include shipping containers and the construction of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation hospital – as being significant in providing for construction jobs and generating jobs later.

“The last (Business Forecast Center) forecast did show some optimism,” said Plovnick. “That’s the first light at the end of the tunnel in a couple of years. … There are a lot of things that are paving the way to a better economy.”

If you go:

•    Registration and breakfast begin at 7:30 a.m. Jan. 19

•    Program runs 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

•    Located at the San Joaquin County, Robert J. Cabral Agricultural Center, 2101 E. Earhart Ave., Suite 200, Stockton

•    Tickets are $75 per person

Call the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at (209) 943-6117 or visit http://www.sjchispanicchamber.com for more information.Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

Zeiter earns designation to help parents of special needs children

Central Valley Business Journal, January 2012

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Financial planning takes on a whole new urgency for the parents of special children.

How the children will navigate everyday challenges, hold onto Social Security benefits, and cover health care costs once their parents are gone is a very real and serious concern.

Michael Zeiter

Zeiter

Increasingly, financial planning professionals are recognizing the need to provide those parents with caring guidance to make those arrangements.

“I just want to be always continuing my education,” said Michael Zeiter of Miceli Financial Partners in Modesto, who recently achieved Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance’s Charter Special Needs Consultant designation to provide such guidance. “I’m a student of my industry. This capped it off. … This is a serious issue and I wanted to incorporate it in my business.”

Zeiter, who is on the board of the United Cerebral Palsy of Stanislaus and Tuolumne Counties, completed “pretty rigorous” training in curriculum by  American University to become one of the first in the nation certified to provide such guidance.

“The drive for training and the commitment undertaken by Michael underscores that actions speak louder than words,” Drew Miceli, MassMutual general agent, said in a statement on Zeiter’s achievement. “Families with children with special needs can rest assured that MassMutual and its financial services professionals are well-prepared to help families navigate the long-term course to help secure a strong financial future.”

While that curriculum is exclusive to MassMutual agents, other insurance and financial planning professionals also see the same need.

Frank Quacinella, a Merrill Lynch financial advisor in Stockton, has worked with families and caregivers of special needs people for more than 25 years. He went through that company’s training and holds a Certified Special Needs Advisor designation.

For Zeiter, deciding to become a Charter Special Needs Consultant came down to a compassionate view mixed with pragmatism.

“It’s a big cruel world out there,” said Zeiter. There is very little difference between special needs people and those without those challenges, he said.

“At one point I said to myself ‘This is unfair and there’s an urgency here,’” he said. “You’re earning a living helping other people.”

Zeiter has lived in Modesto the past 25 years and in business for 14 years, the past five of which with MassMutual.

Beside the special needs consultant designation, Zeiter is also a chartered life underwriter and chartered financial consultant. He was Agent of the Year for MassMutual in the San Jose/Central Valley region in 2008 and 2009, and the No. 1 Financial Representative in Insurance and Investments with Foresters Financial Services in 2006 and the No. 2 representative from 2002 to 2005.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

Volunteers sort through donated food to be separated into food packages given to those in need. (Business Journal photo by Wayne Denning)

Volunteers sort through donated food to be separated into food packages given to those in need. (Business Journal photo by Wayne Denning)

Feeding those in greatest need: Food Bank sees growing demand for services

Central Valley Business Journal, December 2011

By KEITH MICHAUD/ Business Journal Editor

The face of hunger in the Central Valley isn’t what most people think it is.

It is not necessarily the face of the man holding a sign near the exit of a parking lot where a grocery store anchors a strip mall. Or the face of the professional panhandler.

It may include those, but increasingly the new face of hunger in the Central Valley looks a bit like the typical family.

“We’re seeing more of the average family,” said Frederico Navarro, the nutrition services manager for the Emergency Food Bank and Family Services Stockton/San Joaquin. “We’re seeing not your stereotypical clients – we’re seeing the working poor.”

The most recent Emergency Food Bank newsletter indicated that the Stockton food pantry has served 120,000 San Joaquin residents in 2011, 76 percent of whom are employed, retired, or are actively seeking work. More than 1,400 other families are served each month by the agency’s 10 satellite pantries throughout the county and 2,200 more families are reached by the Food Bank’s Mobile Farmer’s Market.

Working families face tough decisions at the end of each month and there are times when there simply isn’t enough money to cover all the expenses. The Food Bank and many other charitable groups throughout San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties are there to provide a helping hand.

And that helping hand goes to a lot more people than ever before.

Tim Viall, the Food Bank executive director, used to think that handing out food to 100 to 150 families and seniors was a busy day. That’s until the average daily food giveaway reached 300 or so, and is even higher on occasion. And that’s not to mention the 1,500 turkeys and chickens the Food Bank planned to give away with its holiday meals for about 2,400 clients at Thanksgiving and a similar number at Christmas.

While the numbers of those hungry is staggering – especially considering that the Central Valley is known as “the nation’s salad bowl” were some of the most fertile land in the world is found – there is some hope.

The Food Bank in June officially opened an expansion to better serve the growing number of hungry. The $1.05 million expansion will help the food bank offer 1.6 million more meals each year.

Offices were moved from a warehouse to free up space for more donated food and other necessities the Food Bank gives out five days a week. A modern 3,000-square-foot office space and demonstration kitchen were built adjacent the warehouse space, with a demonstration garden, shaded picnic area, and barbecue in between. WMB Architects and Diede Construction provided necessary design and building services.

The Food Bank holds weekly classes in the kitchen to teach clients about nutrition and cooking for a healthy lifestyle. The Food Bank opens up the kitchen for use by other nonprofits so they too can provide classes for their clients.

“We’re not trying to be the food police,” said Navarro, “but we do want to have people eat better, more fruits and vegetables.”

Master gardener Janet Durham uses the 1,400-square-foot demonstration and teaching garden to show clients how to grow their own food in urban gardens and other limited space. The garden and adjacent picnic area and barbecue were part of a Leadership Stockton’s class project, said Vaill.

Funding for the project took Vaill, his team, and a dedicated army of volunteers about five years to gather. The money came from community block grants from San Joaquin County and the cities of Stockton, Lathrop, Lodi, and Tracy.

Vail said the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity finished the interior of the Nutrition Education Center, saving the agency $150,000 in labor costs, and helped with demolition of the old office space. Private donors were essential, said Viall, including those from the Cortopassi Family Foundation, which gave significant donation to the Food Bank and pledged an additional “$30,000 if you need it.” That donation instead went to the Habitat for Humanity chapter after the foundation heard of that organization’s efforts on behalf of the Food Bank.

While about 97 percent of the food the Food Bank hands out is donated by 35 to 40 businesses, including Advanced H2O, Campbell Soup Company, Del Monte Foods, Food 4 Less, Taylor Farms, Trader Joe’s and others, the Food Bank is always looking for donors and volunteers.

And there are many opportunities to help, from volunteer opportunities helping out during pantry hours or providing professional services in the Food Bank office to sponsoring events, hosting presentations, donating food or money.

“There are so many ways they can get involved,” Yvonne Derby, the food and resource developer, said of prospective donors and volunteers. “They want to know how to get involved and we make it easy for them.”

How to help
The Emergency Food Bank and Family Services Stockton/San Joaquin is located at 7 W. Scotts Ave., Stockton, just south of the Crosstown Freeway. The organization accepts donations of money and food, and helps groups and businesses organize food drives on behalf of the Food Bank. The organization also provides volunteer opportunities, and specifically for professionals who can help with office work and various professional services.
Food pantry hours: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday
Office: 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday-Friday

Visit www.stocktonfoodbank.org to learn more about the Emergency Food Bank and Family Services Stockton/San Joaquin.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

County set to be ‘center of commerce’

Central Valley Business Journal, December 2011

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

San Joaquin County is poised to become the “center of commerce” in Northern California.

At least, that’s if the San Joaquin Partnership has anything to say about it.

Mike Ammann, CEO and president of the private nonprofit economic development corporation that works to draw and keep businesses in San Joaquin County and the rest of the Central Valley, is adamant that the region already has a fantastic start on fostering growth well into the future. The region has two railroads – Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe– with intermodal service, an under-utilized airport, direct access to Interstate 5 and state Highway 99, with access to east-west routes, and ample and versatile commercial mega-sites. Add the fact that the Port of Stockton is merging onto the “Marine Highway,” which will greatly increase activity there, and the region is in a prime position, said Ammann.

“I really think (the Port of Stockton expansion of service) is going to reposition us – with a full-service port – to be the center of commerce and logistics for Northern California,” said Ammann.

He said the work begun before he arrived about six months ago after Mike Locke left the agency to join the city of Stockton as a deputy city manager has paid off nicely. Five major arrivals in the past few months mean jobs for the region:

Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Markets acquired a 750,000-square-foot facility to be used as a distribution center. It will employ about 700 people with operations expected to begin in 2012. Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Markets are growing into Northern California. The stores offer fresh produce, prepared meals, and other grocery items with self-serve checkout.

The Veterans Affairs Department is bringing to the area a 165,000-square-foot nursing home and a 153,000-square-foot outpatient clinic north of San Joaquin General Hospital. Together the VA facilities will employ 350 people and open sometime in 2015 or 2016. The VA utilizes more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics across the country to provide health and wellness visits and other outpatient services to veterans, according to its website. The VA also has more than 135 Community Living Centers, or nursing homes, to care for veterans with chronic stable conditions such as dementia, those requiring rehabilitation, or those nearing the end of their lives, according to the website.

ACX Pacific Northwest will be in a 90,000-square-foot facility and will employ 50 people in an operation to process, compact and ship raw agricultural products. It will utilize the Marine Highway via shipping barges between Stockton and the Port of Oakland.

ECS Refining is an electronics recycler serving the West and it will be in a 262,000-square-foot facility and employ 120 people. ECS moved into a former metal-stamping plant that closed down when the Nummi auto plant was shuttered in 2010. ECS intends for the facility to be the primary receiving and processing plant for the country’s largest electronics recycling operation, according to the ECS website. The company expects eventually to process 25 million pounds of e-waste each month.

DTE Energy Services will operate a 45 megawatt biomass power plant at the Port of Stockton. The former coal-burning plant will be converted to a cleaner wood burning operation that will employ 50 people at first and 200 once the facility begins operation in 2013.

Ammann said there are about 100 or so more businesses “in the pipeline” to come to the region. He said developing relationships across the region, state and country helps to build the type of economic diversity that can help a region ride out tumultuous economic times.

“We don’t want to focus on just one industry,” said Ammann. “Diversity is what we’re all about. We don’t want to be a monolith like Detroit with the auto industry.”

And if a business isn’t quite the right fit for San Joaquin County, then there might be somewhere else in California it would work.

“If it doesn’t make sense in our region,” said Shelley Burcham, San Joaquin Partnership vice president of client services, “then we want to keep the business in California.”

It also takes a bit of persistence.

“I always say,” said Ammann, “follow up until they die, buy or locate.”

Ammann said the work done by Locke, Burcham and the rest of the Partnership staff, along with his familiarity with the organization from working in economic development up and down the Central Valley, has made for a smooth transition.

“Obviously, we have a great foundation of staff and members,” said Ammann. “We had a full program in place and I just jump onboard and helped complete it. … It’s a team kind of way we’ve put things together. It’s sort of like jumping on the train that’s already left the station.”

Moving forward, Ammann sees commerce in San Joaquin County as broken up into three buckets. The agriculture-food-beverage bucket is in great shape, he said, as is the logistical bucket that includes transportation, available mega-site commercial sites, and more.

Next, the high-technology bucket must be cultivated, said Ammann.

“We have a workforce that the Silicone Valley likes,” said Ammann, adding that 50,000 commuters go to the East Bay every day and that about 20 percent of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s staff comes from San Joaquin County.

Instead of exporting workers to high-tech jobs in the Bay Area, Ammann wants to lure tech business to San Joaquin County and keep the jobs here.

“We have to work that some more to develop that (high-tech) bucket,” said Ammann.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

Partnership chief brings experience, relationships to benefit local economy

Central Valley Business Journal, December 2011

By KEITH MICHAUD/Business Journal Editor

Six months isn’t much time to get acclimated to a new job.

Especially when there’s a chance success – or failure – in that job can have a vast influence on the economic vitality of a region, namely San Joaquin County and the rest of the Central Valley.

Mike Ammann

Ammann

Mike Ammann has been the president and CEO of the San Joaquin Partnership for about six months. Fortunately, that transition is being made easier by several things: the Partnership’s goals and mission are similar to those of agencies Ammann has headed for decades at both ends of the Central Valley; a stable and experienced Partnership staff; an engaged board of directors; and the groundwork laid by Mike Locke, the Partnership’s president and CEO from 1994 to 2011, who is now a Stockton deputy city manager.

“It’s been great. I knew this organization, because I had competed against it,” said Ammann, who held similar posts in Solano County and Bakersfield. “I’ve kind of worked both ends of the Central Valley.”

Ammann and the experienced team that was in place at the Partnership when he arrived have been working on the strategic plan Locke put in place, while also looking forward to drawing new businesses to San Joaquin County and holding onto those already here.

Ammann believes the region is primed to be the “center of commerce” for Northern California. After all, the region has two railroads – Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe – with intermodal service, an under-utilized airport, direct access to Interstate 5, state Highway 99 and east-west routes, and ample and versatile commercial mega-sites. The Port of Stockton is merging onto the “Marine Highway,” which will greatly increase import-export activity there.

One moment Ammann is sitting at a small conference table in his March Tower office overlooking Interstate 5 and the Spaghetti Factory explaining complicated economic development strategies and the next he is jumping up from the table to scribble lines on a whiteboard to explain a point before darting momentarily out of his office to gather more documents to illustrate his points. Ammann is optimistic for San Joaquin County’s future and appears driven to draw companies to San Joaquin County. And if not San Joaquin County, then to the Central Valley or somewhere in California.

It is the relationships forged over the years that let Ammann and his staff  build on past work and look ahead to new goals, such as drawing high-tech businesses to the region.

Ammann brings with him more than 30 years of those relationships. He started his economic development career in the 1970s as the research director for the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Area Chamber of Commerce, while attending Grand Valley State University.

Later, he was the executive director at the Kalamazoo County Economic Expansion Corporation before returning to the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the second largest in the state, to be that organizations vice president for economic development.

In the early 1980s, Ammann was among a group that founded the Washtenaw Development Council and his team developed the first countywide economic development marketing program for the communities of Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, and Ypsilanti, Mich., with Eastern Michigan University. He later worked with the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering to help faculty and researchers in launching technology start-ups and in the commercialization of patents and discoveries.

He and four partners founded Online Technologies, the oldest Internet services providing company in Michigan.

After five years in Ann Arbor, Ammann successfully turned around a 350-acre real estate development at the Arizona State University Research Park in Tempe, Ariz. That was followed by another success, this time in Bakersfield. Ammann and his management team were able to rebuild the staff, volunteer core, and finances of the Kern Economic Development Corp. That success included drawing a State Farm Regional Service Center to a 460,000-square-foot building on 60 acres that resulted in 1,000 new jobs.

Ammann also served as the secretary of the board of directors for TeamCalifornia, a private nonprofit corporation that brings together economic development organizations from across the state to market their communities for business investment and job creation in the state. He was elected president of the organization in May 2008.

He was the president of the Solano Economic Development Corp. in Fairfield for almost eight years before joining the San Joaquin Partnership.

Contact the author about this and other stories at kmichaud@cvbizjournal.com.

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Space, The Final Frontier: Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Offers a Day Trip That Is Out of This World, DAVID, May 2011

Cover page of Virgin Galactic story in DAVID magazine.

Cover page of Virgin Galactic story in DAVID magazine.

This link should lead you to a Google Document displaying the story I wrote for the May 2011 issue of DAVID magazine. Please be patient as the document fully downloads. Then please click on “Fit two pages to screen” in the “View” scroll-down menu to glance at the layout by Adam Bucci, a former colleague at The Reporter who until recently was the part-time art director at DAVID. I thank Adam for his fine work to best display the story. Then enjoy the story. I had a great time putting it together!

Space, The Final Frontier: Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Offers a Day Trip That Is Out of This World, DAVID, May 2011 (PDF version)

Put us back to work!: Long-time joblessness is demoralizing and shameful | Chico News and Review, Sept. 23, 2010

Anger, frustration from longterm unemployment | The Reporter, August 8, 2010

Several newspapers across the country have expressed interest in publishing this piece. I’ve requested permalinks, but some publications may not provide those. Please forgive me if the link to a specific newspaper’s version of the piece does not work.

Officials should have ‘no comfort, no vacations, no getaways until the unemployment rate is halved’ | Treasure Coast Newspapers, (Stuart, Fla.), August 30, 2010

Priority No. 1: Creating jobs | Wilmington (N.C.) StarNews, August 16, 2010

Keith Michaud: I’m unemployed, frustrated and mad | Wisconsin State Journal, Madison.com, Aug. 15, 2010

Jobless and demoralized, looking for hope | Detroit Free Press, Aug. 15, 2010

Long-term unemployment cripples economy |Sacramento Bee, Aug. 13, 2010

Long-term unemployment cripples the economy | Modesto Bee, August 12, 2010

The piece also showed up on the Tennessean website, as well as treehugger.com and Philly.com.

Unemployment takes a toll | The Reporter, July 11, 2010

Unemployment takes a toll (jump page) | The Reporter, July 11, 2010

NEWS

Manteca man on run surrenders to police | The Record, March 7, 2008

The Wings of Freedom | The Record, May 29, 2008

Ex-firefighter, son join in cross-country quest for cancer cure | The Record, June 13, 2008

Threats to officers prompt shootings | The Record, June 17, 2008

Victims thankful for safety | The Record, August 5, 2008

Two arrested in 2005 fatal beating | The Record, August 15, 2008

Man facing trial arrested in slaying | The Record, August 29, 2008

Six Stockton firefighters caught in explosion | The Record, September 3, 2008

Man killed in early morning shooting; two arrests made | The Record, September 25, 2008

The Giving Spirit 2008: Groups have small wallets, big hearts | The Record, December 10, 2008

Stockton man, 18, arrested in September homicide | The Record, January 10, 2009

OPINION

Put us back to work!: Long-time joblessness is demoralizing and shameful | Chico News and Review, Sept. 23, 2010

Anger, frustration from longterm unemployment | The Reporter, August 8, 2010

Several newspapers across the country have expressed interest in publishing this piece. I’ve requested permalinks, but some publications may not provide those. Please forgive me if the link to a specific newspaper’s version of the piece does not work.

Officials should have ‘no comfort, no vacations, no getaways until the unemployment rate is halved’ | Treasure Coast Newspapers, (Stuart, Fla.), August 30, 2010

Priority No. 1: Creating jobs | Wilmington (N.C.) StarNews, August 16, 2010

Long-term unemployment cripples the economy | Modesto Bee, August 12, 2010

Unemployment takes a toll | The Reporter, July 11, 2010

Unemployment takes a toll (jump page) | The Reporter, July 11, 2010

Always more can be done | The Reporter, January 16, 2006

Barbaric reply to barbarity | The Reporter, January, 18, 2006

Theater obscures message | The Reporter, March 8, 2006

EDITORIALS

More than filling potholes | The Reporter, April 11, 2006

Leading by example | The Reporter, April 14, 2006

A purposeful life | The Reporter, January 16, 2006

VPEF noteworthy praise | The Reporter, March 28, 2006