It wasn't a blue ribbon day. It was a Blue Diamond day.
Blue Diamond Growers opened the doors of its state-of-the-art Turlock almond processing facility on Tuesday, bringing hundreds of jobs to town and revolutionizing the almond industry in the process.
“Welcome to the most anticipated day in the history of our co-op,” said Mark Jansen, President and CEO of Blue Diamond Growers. “… It is difficult to describe in a few words how excited and proud we are.”
Blue Diamond Growers, the world's largest almond grower cooperative, posted record-breaking revenues of more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2011-2012. It's the Turlock almond processing facility that will take the cooperative to the next level, executives said.
Construction started just 14 months ago on phase one of the nearly 200,000 square-foot facility. Today, Jansen said the plant is the safest, most-efficient, highest output almond processing facility in the world.
The facility is being termed as the “largest capital investment in the history of the almond industry,” though Blue Diamond is not releasing the specific dollar cost of the facility.
“This will be the largest facility of its kind in the world,” Bruce Lish, Blue Diamond General Manager of Industrial Operations said.
The plant contains three almond processing lines. One, dedicated to processing raw, in-the-skin almonds, has been operational for about eight weeks. The other two lines, processing blanched almonds, will enter service in the coming weeks.
Each line prepares “value-added” almonds, slicing, dicing, and pasteurizing nuts for other producers to use in goods like cereal, baked goods, and candies.
Already, about 40 people are at work at the plant, Lish said. And hiring is not yet completed.
“We're looking for about 40 more,” said Ulli Thiersch, Blue Diamond Director of Project Management and Construction. “If you know people who have two to three years of operations experience, we'd love to talk to them.”
Full operations, with between 100 and 130 employees, will begin in August. Jansen anticipates a total of more than 300 jobs will be created by the plant's first phase, with 123 new posts at Blue Diamond suppliers and 79 jobs created in the general Turlock community as a result of increased local spending.
And soon, the plant will expand further with a second phase devoted to oil roasting, dry roasting, coating, and packaging whole almonds – the type of work currently performed at Blue Diamond's Sacramento facility.
Construction on the second phase was originally planned to begin in 2015, but the almond industry's explosive growth has accelerated the timeline. The second phase will go before the Blue Diamond Board of Directors in September for approval, Lish said, with an expectation the facility will be operational in 2015.
“It's our intent to rapidly get into construction on the second phase,” Lish said.
The second phase will add another “couple hundred thousand” square feet, Lish said. With the expansion will come scores of new jobs – far more than the first phase will employ.
“The job count will be considerably higher,” Lish said. “I think I can confidently say that.”
Blue Diamond's new facility sits on 88 acres in the Turlock Regional Industrial Park, situated alongside Washington Road and stretching between Fulkerth Road and West Main Street. Should future operations require even more room, Lish said that Blue Diamond has rights of first refusal on a further 50 acres in the area.
The Turlock Regional Industrial Park's shovel-ready ground has been ceaselessly lauded by Blue Diamond executives for making the project possible on such a tight timeline. Constructing such a large development in just 14 months – on time and under budget – is almost unheard of.
Lish said Blue Diamond looked at 39 different sites before selecting Turlock as the home of the new factory. In some instances, the amenities available in Turlock seemed almost unbelievable, he said. And during the due diligence process, Turlock turned around permits that were expected to take four to six weeks in just three to four weeks.
Turlock Mayor John Lazar credited former Mayor Curt Andre, and former councils, for making a multimillion dollar investment in the Turlock Regional Industrial Park.
“If it wasn't for the vision of the city leaders back in the 90s, we wouldn't be here today,” Lazar said.
And the Turlock Regional Industrial Park's future could be brighter yet. Lish said Blue Diamond has been recommending the park to anyone they come across – including several affiliated companies.
“We have some major vendors that are eyeing this event very carefully,” Lish said.
Tuesday's grand opening drew more than 300 attendees, including California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross, California State Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen (R-Modesto), the Turlock City Council, and three Stanislaus County Supervisors – all of them almond growers. U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) – a Blue Diamond grower – was unable to be in attendance, but sent a representative with a certificate of Blue Diamond's achievements, read into the Congressional Record.
And Jansen had something for Turlock, as well. The Blue Diamond CEO announced that Blue Diamond has made a commitment to the Turlock community, and will provide funding to several local organizations: Jessica's House for grieving families, the Turlock Educational Foundation, the California State University Stanislaus Promise Scholars program, Camp Taylor for children with heart disease, Turlock Parks and Recreation program scholarships, and the Turlock PAL Summer Camp at the Marty Yerby Center.
The partnership is just one sign of the many positive effects Blue Diamond Growers will have on Turlock, Lazar said. And the best could be yet to come.
“I see great things,” Lazar said. “I see more economic development, more jobs, more opportunity for our young people. … This renaissance in Turlock is exciting for us.”
Interested persons can apply for employment online at www.bluediamondturlock.com.
Blue Diamond Growers ribbon cutting ceremoney. 06-18-13 Photo: Alex Cantatore