Industrial employers keep pace with population growth

Ninety-five percent of the Visalia Industrial Park has turned over since 1993 but the printing hub turned distribution center is larger and busier than ever

VISALIA – Once a hub for printing companies, Visalia’s Industrial Park is now dominated by distribution warehouses. The shift has allowed major employers to keep pace with the growth of the city’s population, a 76% increase since 1993. 

The Industrial Park today looks vastly different than it did 30 years ago. Even as more companies have landed here and expanded in an unprecedented boom in the past few years, the players, types of industries and significantly, the scale, has changed dramatically.

When the city published a list of its Top 10 employers in a 1993 Discover Visalia profile, most of the companies on the list are now either out of business or have shrunk their workforce considerably. Back in 1993 the top employer on the list was Jostens American Yearbook, a commercial printing plant with a long history in the community. The printing plant had seasonal employment as high as 700 before it was shut down in 2020. The work at Jostens was geared to prepare and print school yearbooks each winter. The plant was a welcome addition to the agricultural region in the 1960s when it was hard to find full time jobs or any job in the winter months, just when the company needed additional workers.

Today the big building houses Italian produce packaging company Sorma, which only employs 38 people but is planning to expand soon.

Moore’s Business Forms, ninth on the list, employed 190 back then but is now RL Donnelley. The facility is still printing business forms and stickers but with a staff of just 13 people. Also on the 1993 list was Taycal Press that employed 160 but has closed their doors as well. Another print company going dark.

The once bustling printers eventually gave way to larger companies, employing more people, selling more products and delivering them across vast areas. Despite a 95% turnover rate in tenants, the 500-acre district is now larger and busier than ever with some of the biggest warehouse and distribution companies. 

Amazon now employs 1,500 employees, the largest in Visalia, working in over 2.3 million square feet encompassed in two sprawling buildings. VF Corp, a distribution center for clothing brands such as Vans, Timberland, JanSport, and The North Face, employs about 1,000 workers in Visalia. Thanks, in part, to the regional UPS package hub, which employs about 600 workers, Visalia Industrial Park companies now ship to 95 million customers overnight. 

And there is plenty more to come, suggests the Visalia Economic Development Corporation which oversees the Industrial Park. The group of local industry leaders states there is 14 million more square feet of space in the works. 

The new 400-job, 1 million square foot Ace Hardware service center is about ready to open. This month, another 1.2 million square foot spec warehouse is breaking ground a mile north of Riggin Avenue and west of Plaza Drive. The new facility is expected to open in October 2023 at a cost of $70 million. The same developer built two Amazon plants here already. The leap north is a portend of how the industrial park will grow in the future with plenty of land to accommodate it. 

Ag/Food Sector

Number 2 on the list in 1993 was USDA Cotton, a classing facility for the Valley crop that employed as many as 350 people on a seasonal basis. Today the government facility carries on its work but it employs 50 in the 3-month busy time and just eight workers on a permanent basis. Technology is one reason and the loss of cotton acreage in the West is another. Director Greg Townsend says the Visalia facility now covers four states with possibly as little as a quarter of the cotton gins it handled 30 years ago as the industry has shrunk.

Eagle Snacks was number 3 on the list and employed 338 workers, according to the 1993 report. Owner Anhueser Busch sold the plant to rival snack company Frito Lay in 1996. They opened a new potato chip plant here in 1997 but it closed in 2004 with the chip business transferred to Bakersfield. The site and buildings were bought by dairy co-op California Dairies Inc. who remodeled and plumbed it to build a huge butter and powder milk plant in 2008. Visalia is the company’s corporate headquarters supporting the largest single evaporator-dryer in North America. The plant is in the middle of the biggest milk producing county in the US. California Dairies now employs 500 people, the fifth largest employer at the industrial park today. 

Number six in 1993 was Knudsen Dairy Products that ended up going bankrupt and is no longer. The company employed 200 in Visalia and was known as the largest cottage cheese plant in the US. Knudsen was bought out by Kraft but Kraft closed the Goshen Avenue plant in 2006. Today it is still a milk plant owned by Milk Specialties Global, which has been operating since 2012 and owned by the company since 2019. The big facility employs only a handful of workers.

Vlasic Foods had a pickle plant in Visalia that employed 314 – number 4 in employment on the list 30 years ago. The plant owned by Campbell Soup closed in 1992. California Pretzel was on the top 10 list too but the pretzel business is now long gone in Visalia. 

Big and Small

Besides the national operators, the industrial park has grown its “mom and pop” side as well. South of Goshen Avenue, developer Butch Oldfield and others have parceled out 2-, 5- and 20-acre lots on American Avenue. Companies like Visalia Ceramic Tile are expanding here and already employ 170 workers. Ag-related companies like Perfection Pet Food, Peninsula Packaging, MWI (205 employees), Hydrite and Edeniq -expanding this year- carry on.

American Inc now manufactures and custom fabricates as well, they employed 425 as of December 2020.

Visalia Economic Development manager Devon Jones emphasizes growth in the manufacturing sector.

“The Visalia industrial park continues to grow while adapting to the demands of the global economy. While manufacturing is changing due to technology and global competitiveness, Visalia still offers a strategic location for any company wishing to be close to the ag/food sector or to service the CA or Western US market. Currently we are seeing most of the growth in e-commerce and distribution, but manufacturing still has a strong presence in the Visalia industrial park and there are a lot of groups working on growing the sector and a quality workforce to handle the jobs of tomorrow.”

Other major employers today in the industrial park, based on 2020 data, include:

Graphic Packaging (International Paper), 757 employees

JoAnn Fabrics, 300 employees

Voltage Multipliers, 220 employees

Bluescope Buildings, 185 employees

Polymerpak (Replanet), 165 employees with plans to expand soon.

Milgard Window and Doors, 162 employees

Advanced Food Products, 150 employees

Serpa Packaging – 150 employees

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