TODAY

– August 23, 2014

Vidak to speak at Tulare dairy luncheon

Andy VidakAndy VidakState Sen. Andy Vidak will be the keynote speaker of the Salute to Dairy Luncheon in Tulare on June 21.

The luncheon, sponsored by the Tulare Chamber of Commerce, will run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Heritage Complex, 4500 S. Laspina St.

Other sponsors include A&E Pressure Washers, Farm Credit West, Golden State West Far Credit, J.D. Heiskell & Co., Land O' Lakes, Inc. and US Cold Storage.

More than 200 people attend the event each year to celebrate the Tulare area's dairy industry and hear from exhibitors showcasing their products.

Vidak, a cherry farmer from Hanford, will speak on dairy and other agricultural issues during the luncheon.

He represents California's 16th Senate District covering Kings County and parts of Tulare, Fresno and Kern counties.

Tickets are $30 and can be purchased by contacting the Tulare Chamber at (559) 686-1547. More information is available at www.tularechamber.org.

The luncheon is part of the Tulare 2014 Dairy Festival, a 1 1/2-day event focused on the dairy industry.

The festivities kick off June 20 at 6 p.m. with the Tulare County Dairywomen's 30th Annual Dairy Princess Coronation at the Heritage Complex.

Also, the AgVentures! Learning Center at the International Agri-Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with ag-related activities for kids and adults.

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Written on 08/22/2014, 2:46 pm by Business Journal staff
Legendary crooner Tony Bennett has been added to the lineup of this year's Big Fresno Fair. Bennett will close out the fair's run on Oct. 13.
Written on 08/22/2014, 2:11 pm by Leah
President and CEO, The Downtown Fresno Partnership What we do: We oversee the Property and Business Improvement District in downtown Fresno — everything from events to business retention and marketing to fundraising and economic development.  Education: Majored in architecture at Ohio State University Earned bachelor’s degree in urban design and urban planning from the University of Cincinnati  Age:  39 Family: Wife, Jessica; daughters Sierra (17) and Hannah (15)   How did you come to your position as CEO of the Downtown Fresno Partnership? I was looking for an opportunity in California for my family in downtown redevelopment. We’d actually been looking for some time but it just wasn’t the right fit. When I came across the job in Fresno, I started investigating and it seemed like a great fit for myself and my family, so I called former Downtown Fresno Partnership CEO Kate Borders about it and after talking to her, I found it would be a good fit for me, so I applied. What were your proudest accomplishments as downtown city manager of Albany? That was one of the hardest positions I think I’ve ever been in in terms of development. I was also following behind the footsteps of someone who basically left the position in handcuffs in terms of stealing money and things of that nature. I had a hard act to follow considering there was zero support at the time and some within the city government didn’t support it either. My biggest accomplishment after being there three and a half years was that there was actually support, there was activity, private sector investment was happening and that was probably the biggest thing. If you could affect any change in the Fresno community, what would it be? My philosophy behind downtown redevelopment is public sector investment is great but without the private sector really leading the charge, it doesn’t really change a whole lot. It kind of becomes stagnant. There’ll be ups and downs of great successes from public sector investments. One thing I’m going to focus on is really lighting that fire underneath the private sector to take hold and take charge of the redevelopment process. It actually invites the buy-in from the community that way too. How do you think downtown Fresno will prosper by opening up the Fulton Mall to traffic? In terms of restoring the original urban fabric to the downtown, to me, that’s important because a lot of times you’ll see streets will be cut off, dead ends or cul de sacs and that’s not the original design or the original intent of the downtown. To me it’s critical, and Kate before me thought it was critical too. What it does is it gives us that window of opportunity to go out and recruit private sector investment and that’s what we’re going to do over the next 16 to 18 months while it’s under construction. What qualities does downtown Fresno possess that show potential in bringing more people to the area?   Obviously the investment and the input from residential development are critical. We have to have people living downtown and living in the core neighborhoods. The core neighborhoods are just as critical as having people living on the mall or in the cultural arts district. Having a successful Lowell neighborhood is critical as well, and seeing that investment happening now and continuing to happen is great. There’s some significant life right now and you can sense it. We’re going to build on that. What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I was a stock boy for a drug emporium, which is kind of like a Walgreens. I loved that job because I loved organizing the shelves. It allowed me to be creative on how I would organize things, what labels, the color of the boxes. I was probably more into the “how can I create these shelves to look cool.” What person now or in history would you be most interested in meeting and why? I would like to meet Matthew Barnett from the Dream Center in L.A. That guy just does amazing stuff. What do you like to do in your spare time? I like to go running. My family and I, we like to go the beach and just be outdoors.
Written on 08/22/2014, 2:04 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — More tensions in Ukraine left the stock market slightly lower in quiet trading. Investors were also poring over a speech by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, which gave few clues about the central bank's next moves on interest rates. Trading was unusually quiet with many investors on vacation. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 38 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 17,001 Friday. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell four points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,988. The Nasdaq composite index rose six points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,538. Aeropostale plunged 10 percent after forecasting a big loss in the current quarter. Gap rose 5 percent after reporting a surge in profits. Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.40 percent.
Written on 08/22/2014, 2:03 pm by Jonathan J. Cooper, AP Writer
(AP) — The state of Oregon filed a lawsuit Friday against Oracle Corp. and several of its executives over the technology company's role in creating the troubled website for the state's online health insurance exchange. The lawsuit, filed in Marion County Circuit Court in Salem, seeks more than $200 million in damages and alleges that Oracle officials made false statements, breached contracts and engaged in "a pattern of racketeering activity." Oracle was the largest technology contractor working on Oregon's health insurance enrollment website, known as Cover Oregon. The public website was never launched, forcing the state to hire hundreds of workers to process paper applications by hand. The website's failure became a political problem to Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, who is running for re-election. "Today's lawsuit clearly explains how egregiously Oracle has disserved Oregonians and our state agencies," Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, said in a statement. "Over the course of our investigation, it became abundantly clear that Oracle repeatedly lied and defrauded the state." In addition to the company, the state's lawsuit individually names six Oracle executives, including President and Chief Financial Officer Safra Catz, and Mythics Inc., which acted as a middleman between Oracle and the state. In a statement, Oracle called the lawsuit "a desperate attempt to deflect blame from Cover Oregon and the governor for their failures to manage a complex IT project." "The complaint is a fictional account of the Oregon health care project," the company's statement said. "Oracle is confident that the truth — and Oracle — will prevail in this action." Oracle filed its own lawsuit Aug. 8 in federal court alleging breach of contract and seeking payment of more than $23 million in disputed bills. The Redwood City, California, company blames Oregon for the website's failure, saying the state had incompetent and indecisive staff. Oracle also faults Oregon's decision not to hire a systems integrator, which acts as a sort of general contractor to integrate various technology components. The state's lawsuit says it was Oracle employees who persuaded the state to forego hiring a systems integrator. "Today, after months of investigation, the attorney general's findings go well beyond disappointing and incomplete work," Kitzhaber said in a statement. "The complaint filed contains serious new allegations of fraud, deceit, and corruption by Oracle." Instead of signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act in one sitting, Oregonians had to use a hybrid paper-online process that was costly and slow, and the state had to hire more than 400 workers to help them. Altogether, about $250 million in federal funds has been spent on Oregon's exchange, including technology development, salaries, advertising and rent. Despite the exchange's technology woes, about 454,500 Oregonians have enrolled in coverage through Cover Oregon using the hybrid process. An estimated 97,000 of those enrolled in private health plans, while about 357,500 enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, the state's version of Medicaid. The state decided to stop building the Oracle website earlier this year and transitioned to the federally run enrollment website. The FBI and the federal Government Accountability Office are also investigating Oregon's exchange problems.
Written on 08/22/2014, 1:57 pm by ben
Popular promotions and new partnerships have mustered a needed boost for the Fresno Grizzlies this season following years of red ink. With only a handful of home games left to play, the city’s Triple-A team looks to fall short in attendance for the season with around 420,000 seats sold compared to 487,536 last year.   However, Fresno Grizzlies’ Executive Vice President Derek Franks said the outlook is promising for the club’s three biggest revenue generators, with season ticket revenue so far this year up 5.6 percent from 2013.  Group revenue has climbed 6.2 percent, while corporate partnership revenue increased the most, rising 16 percent from the year before. “It looks like we’re going to be up in concessions revenues as well,” Franks said. “In fact, it looks like it’s going to be one of our highest concession years since 2009.” Franks gave a lot of credit to some newer and bigger promotions drawing large crowds on a few celebrated days throughout the year. With its seating capacity of 12,500 at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno, some 13,800 fans packed in Aug. 14 for the fourth annual Taco Truck Throwdown, pitting some 20 food trucks against each other in a flavor competition. “We did have our fourth largest attendance in the history of the ballpark for that event,” Franks said. For the best all encompassing promotion of the year, Franks hailed the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” theme night Aug. 2 featuring jerseys emblazoned with the Nickelodeon crime fighting heroes, as well as themed fan merchandise, free pizza and lunch box giveaway, and the team's mascot dressed up like Master Splinter. Making the night even more popular, Franks said, was timing the promotion with the release of Paramount Pictures’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film released to theaters a week later. The Grizzlies also continued their partnership with the local craftspeople during Fresno Ideaworks Day on April 27. Taking place about a year after the Grizzlies’ first maker faire at Chukchansi Park, the day had Fresno area students and innovators displaying everything from robots, derby cars and cardboard creations all in support of the maker movement touted by a new group of hobbyists and inventors known as Fresno Ideaworks. Franks said many of the year’s promotions have been nominated for Minor League Baseball’s Promo of the Year award as determined by voting fans. “I would expect all of those to be considered this year and we hope to get on ballot with one of them,” Franks said. Many of the weekly promotions have also continued as fan favorites this season, Franks said, especially the long-running Monday Madness, 2 for Tuesdays and Tecate Thursday deals. The weekly Farm Grown Friday events are also continuing on the success of last year’s launch, with a presentation of agricultural issues preceding Friday home games followed by a farmers market in the stadium during play. This season, the Farm Grown program partnered with four agricultural lending associations to support its awards, grants and scholarships as well as an annual Farm Grown magazine for the next three years. The Grizzlies also forged a new partnership with San Francsico-based Uber to give free Thursday game tickets to fans showing up using the ridesharing service. For next year, Franks said he expects the team will continue some of the familiar events that people have grown to love in the Fresno area, while dreaming of ways to make the occasional promotions like Taco Truck Throwdown bigger and better. “We’re throwing out names for bobbleheads and identifying who’s some interesting players to use,” Franks said. “We also want to do some historical Fresno baseball stuff next year, so you’ll see more throwback type promotions next year.” Promos aren’t the only thing drawing attention to the team, as the Grizzlies Community Fund, a nonprofit foundation established in 2004, has raised $246,000 so far this year to support its community-serving programs and local nonprofit organizations. That’s up 39 percent from the same time in 2013. Franks said the fund’s Wild About Reading program, for instance, is surpassing last year when the team enrolled 102,000 Central Valley students with a challenge to read 10 books over five weeks for a free ticket to a Grizzlies game. The Junior Grizzlies, a non-competitive baseball league for athletes with mental and physical disabilities, is also continuing strong, as is the Swing for Kids program allowing season ticket holders to donate their unused tickets to kids who normally wouldn’t get to see a game. Lately, the Fresno Grizzlies’ managers have been fending off rumors that the Milwaukee Brewers would take over as the team’s new major league affiliate in a three-team swap that would see its longtime partner, the San Francisco Giants, switching over to the Sacramento Rivercats. While he wouldn’t confirm the move, Franks pointed out that there is always speculation about such transfers in the business as player development contracts with major league teams occur every even-numbered year. While negotiations will take place in September during a small window of time when minor league teams are able to talk to major league suitors, Franks said there is no reason to believe right now that the current affiliation will change when Fresno is so close to its San Francisco fans. “This is Giants territory and we love the Giants,” Franks said. “There’s a lot of history of the Giants in Fresno being linked together and there’s a lot of great players for the Giants from here.” Local love for the Grizzlies has translated to decent attendance in the team’s Pacific Coast League, where Franks said the team always falls in the top seventh or fifth out of 16 ball clubs. The misconception, he said, was that Chukchansi Park is larger than many of the Triple-A parks being built today creating the illusion that its less filled on game days than ball parks in other cities. Ticket and concession prices are also in the lower end of most minor league teams, Franks added, especially compared to its Sacramento rivals to the north. “We’re always looking to find ways to make it affordable and make it so that everyone gets a chance to go,” Franks said. “So if the weekends don’t work for you, then maybe 2 for Tuesday night works out better and comes in even more affordable.” As of Aug. 20, the Grizzlies standing in the Pacific Coast League fifth from the bottom with 63 wins and 68 losses.
Written on 08/22/2014, 1:40 pm by ben
With among the highest poverty rates in the country, the Central Valley has been a boon for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, offering high-speed Internet at a dramatically reduced price to low-income customers. Since its launch in 2011, the program has enrolled some 350,000 families, or 1.4 million low-income individuals, across the country, giving them access to broadband service for only $9.95 a month.    Participating customers also have the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for just $149.99 with tax and receive free digital literacy training either in print, online or in person. In California, more than 46,270 households have benefited from the low-cost program, including 11,000 in the Central Valley. Bryan Byrd, director of communications for Comcast California, said one of the reasons it’s been so popular in the area has to do with the requirements that at least one child in the household be enrolled in the federal National School Lunch Program. Within Fresno Unified School District, for instance, around 24.1 percent of students are eligible for the low-cost or free lunch program, living in families at or below 130 percent of the national poverty rate. The share is even higher for all of Fresno County at 66.7 percent compared to the statewide average of 16.2 percent. “Fresno has one of the largest populations of families with children in the program so clearly we have given attention to Fresno,” said Byrd. The name Internet Essentials derives from the fact that having the Internet has become an essential tool for everyday life regardless of income, Byrd explained. Most schoolwork is done online, he said, while the same is true of many job applications and community services for groups like senior citizens. In February, Comcast provided Fresno with $100,000 in grant money for area nonprofit organizations to create Internet Essential Learning Zones — sites like libraries and schools offering enhanced broadband technology to give families access to the Web and Internet training. “There were 15 communities across the country, and Fresno Unified was recognized as being one of the most successful districts (for Internet Essentials),” Byrd said. Alexis Fernandez, a graduate of Sunnyside High School in Fresno, was limited to infrequent library trips for his studies when his family went without a home Internet connection for two years. Fernandez, now a freshmen at Fresno State studying business, said schoolwork and searching for jobs has been much easier since his family signed on with Internet Essentials last May. He also received a free laptop from the Boys and Girls Club of Fresno County, one of four local organization that received Comcast grants earlier this year to help close the digital gap for low-income residents. “It’s been great — I have everything at my fingertips. I could just quickly get my laptop instead of stressing out and having to go to the library tomorrow,” said Fernandez, who hopes to one day start his own retail business. Originally launched with download speeds of 1.5 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of around 384 Kbps, Comcast has since increased the bandwidth offered under the program to now 5 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. That’s still well below Comcast’s basic broadband connection available under its xfinity service at an average of 25 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload. The largest Internet provider in the U.S., Comcast offers cable TV, Internet and telephone services to 39 states and wireless Internet across much of the U.S. In California, the company’s service territory extends from Chico in the north to Tulare in the south and east to the Bay Area. Byrd mentioned some pockets, like Turlock, Orange Cove and Orosi, where Comcast doesn’t serve, while Internet speeds may vary throughout the state as well. “The way the cable industry developed, each town had its own separate cable system so depending on how much equipment or infrastructure, you may have inherited a system that wasn’t completely built out and you don’t’ have as much bandwidth,” Byrd said.   Whether it’s for poverty or the remoteness of rural communities from broadband infrastructure, Internet access is still lacking in the Central Valley compared to the rest of the state. A report released in June by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 69 percent of residents have access to high-speed broadband Internet at home. The Central Valley had the lowest rates in the state at 60 compared to 80 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area, 77 percent in the Orange County/San Diego area, 68 percent in the Inland Empire and 64 percent in Los Angeles. Income factored in as well. While 92 percent of those earning $80,000 or more in California reported having access to broadband at home, only 53 percent of those earning $40,000 or less admitted the same. Ben Keller  |  Reporter can be reached at: 490-3465 or e-mail ben@thebusinessjournal.com
Written on 08/22/2014, 1:38 pm by Leah
South Valley residents who have a continuing thirst for local-brewed craft beer will soon get another option as Fresno’s Sequoia Brewing Co. plans to open a restaurant on Main Street in Visalia as soon as the holidays. Both the brewery’s founder and a local development group that owns the property confirm the news.   Developer Harvey May, who heads up a local investment group that owns the former Mar Building at 124 West Main St., said: “We think it will bring in the kind of business that will keep downtown exciting.” May said a church currently operating in the building has plans to relocate. That will make room for several months of remodeling work that will start once all permits are in hand. The group who also owns the building next door, where popular Japanese restaurant Tachibana relocated in June. Brewery owner Scott Kendall said he and wife/co-owner Michele they are excited about opening in downtown Visalia, adding “the whole vibe is so much better than I thought it would be.” The Kendalls launched the company in 2003 in Fresno’s Tower District, purchasing the former Butterfield Brewing Co. and changing the name. They later added a North Fresno location as well. “The Tower location is still where all the beer is made,” Scott said. “It’s sort of natural to be coming to Visalia with the Sequoia name attached,” Scott added. “We always had Visalia in mind.” The craft beer movement is gaining steam, with craft production up 9.6 percent last year, compared to an overall drop in the production of beer of 1.4 percent. “Our own experience in Fresno is that business has been growing steadily at 10  to 15 percent every year,” said Scott. He said that prompted the couple to open the Visalia location this year. There are also plans for a Santa Barbara restaurant, on Helena Street, in the beginning of next year. Included in that plan is a 1,600-foot outdoor patio. The Visalia eatery will offer its award winning ales and lagers and a wide variety of food from pizza and pasta to burgers. There will be a full bar. The eatery will be open for lunch and dinner and breakfast on Sunday. Look for acoustic music, but not the loud stuff, jokes Kendall. “We don’t want to turn it into a club.” Besides offering their own beer in their restaurants, the Kendalls have a different partnership that sells beer at retail and grocery locations. In 2010 Kevin Cox, former Butterfields owner, and the Kendalls went to downtown Fresno to bottle and retail selected Sequoia beers, a partnership now popularly known as Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Co. Scott said he is not worried about expanding to the Central Coast, or locking horns with other craft brews, like Paso Robles’ 805 brand owner Firestone. “We have a good competitive relationship, but it is always friendly,” Scott said. Surplus City bought The Visalia development group called 120 W Main includes Visalia realtor Matt Graham, farmer and developer Fred Lagomarsino, farmer and industrial juice marker Tommy Elliott and developer May. Just last week the group completed the purchase of the former Surplus City property on east Main Street in downtown Visalia. Surplus City closed its doors to the 9,500 square-foot building after many years in early 2014, and its owner put the property up for sale. A major remodel is planned. “We hope to lease it out to two retail users,” May said. “We already have a letter of intent from a well known retailer for half the space.” The Surplus City building is well placed close to the corner of Bridge and Main streets where the 10-plex movie theater is located. Crawdaddy’s restaurant is also located nearby as part of a new construction project. Downtown retail vacancy is extremely low, said Don Sharp, chair of the Downtown Visalians merchant group. “Besides the Surplus City space, I can’t think of any other Main Street space available on the ground floor.” Sharp said. Property owner Sam Sciacca has said the former Links clothing store space he purchased is now spoken for, with a salon and wine-bar moving in and four apartments in the works upstairs.
Written on 08/22/2014, 1:37 pm by Hannah Esqueda
Voting begins next month for The Business Journal’s new Best of Central Valley Business Reader’s Choice Awards. Unlike other “best of” competitions, the Best of Central Valley Business awards have a business-to-business slant, said Gordon Webster, publisher of The Business Journal.   The competition asks members of the local business community to select their favorite companies, people and places in 25 different categories. Visitors to TheBusinessJournal.com will be able to write-in their selections starting Sept. 1. The business with the most write-in votes wins in each category. “We’re looking to engage the Central Valley’s business community and find out who’s the best,” Webster said.  Competition categories focusing on the business-to-business sector include Best Restaurant for Conducting Business, Best Politician on Business Issues, Best Business Bank, Best Bar to Entertain Clients, Best Business Supporting Local Charities and Best Chamber of Commerce. Other categories ask voters to simply choose the top business in a particular industry, including Best Hospital, Best Technology Company, Best Advertising Agency and Best Law Firm.  Click on the gold “Best of Central Valley Business” box on The Business Journal homepage for more information. Voting runs through Oct. 31. Businesses from The Business Journal’s four-county coverage area of Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings counties will be eligible for the competition.  “We want to honor some of our popular Central Valley businesses,” Webster said. The top three businesses in each category will be invited to an awards reception in December. Top businesses will be announced in the Dec. 12 print edition of The Business Journal. Each award winner will also receive a plaque honoring his or her victory as one of the best Central Valley businesses. Webster said he hopes the business-to-business angle of the Best of Central Valley Business competition will inspire local business owners to think seriously about each other and see what’s working for the industry and what needs to be improved. “We want to hear from them who they think is at the top of their game,” he said.  Webster said he plans for the awards to become an annual tradition and will add categories over the next few years.  “Next year we’re hoping to go up to 50,” he said.  Central Valley Community Bank is a title sponsor of the competition. Hannah Esqueda  |  Reporter can be reached at: 490-3461 or e-mail hannah@thebusinessjournal.com The voting categories are: • Best Politician on Business Issues • Best Business supporting local Charities • Best Non-Profit • Best Commercial Real Estate Company • Best Residential Real Estate Company • Best Real Estate Property Management Company • Best Architectural Firm • Best Engineering Firm • Best Home Builder • Best Business Bank • Best Employment Service • Best Property/Casualty Insurance Company • Best Credit Union • Best Auto Dealership • Best Accounting Firm • Best Law Firm • Best Advertising Agency • Best Bar to Entertain Clients • Best Restaurant for Conducting Business • Best Happy Hour • Best Hospital • Best Technology Company • Best Shopping Center • Best Chamber of Commerce
Written on 08/22/2014, 1:24 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — The California Highway Patrol says Democratic state Sen. Ben Hueso has been arrested on charges of drunken driving. Officer Julie Powell, a spokeswoman for the CHP's Valley division, confirmed the arrest to The Associated Press on Friday but had no other details. The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department website says the 44-year-old from San Diego was booked at 3:27 a.m. Friday after being arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. The report says Hueso is in custody at the Sacramento County Jail, but the sheriff's department referred calls to the CHP. Hueso is the fourth Democratic state senator to be arrested this year. The others have been suspended from the Senate. Hueso's office referred calls to his chief of staff, Ana Molina-Rodriguez, who did not return repeated telephone and email messages.
Written on 08/22/2014, 11:25 am by Associated Press
(AP) — An internal report concludes the Los Angeles Unified School District's $1 billion plan to provide iPads to all students was beset by poor planning and a flawed bidding process. The Los Angeles Times reported Friday (http://lat.ms/1ohTdKO) that the draft analysis concludes the district needlessly limited its options on price and product, and raises questions about whether the bidding process was fair. The report says the initial steps of the process appeared to favor the eventual winner — Apple — rather than demonstrating district needs. Some other school districts have opted for less expensive tablets. The committee review stops short of accusing anyone of wrongdoing, but offers a carefully worded rebuke of the districtwide iPad rollout that began last fall.

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