Visalia manufacturer expanding, adding 75 jobs

Kaweah Container, Inc., has purchased the 174,000 square-foot former Alcoa/Reynolds plant on Goshen Avenue in the Visalia Industrial Park. The 1970s-built facility on 12 acres has been vacant for six years.


President of Kaweah Container Robert Reeves said the large facility is being remolded and equipped to make corrugated boxes, mostly for the food industry.

Food making and shipping is big business in Tulare County, and Kaweah Container has been on a roll to capture more of that business.

"Since I came to the company in 2004, Kaweah Container has grown from around 17 employees to 170," Reeves said.

The firm has facilities in Cutler, where it originated next to the Wileman Bros & Elliott packing facility. It also has operations in Livermore, where it makes boxes, and in Visalia, where it leases a 77,000 square-foot office and distribution center. That building also houses the company’s corporate offices. The lease is up early next year.

“Now that we have purchased the Goshen Avenue building, we have a game plan to expand rapidly," Reeves said, adding about 75 jobs. The schedule includes opening the new plant in January and being fully operational by mid-year.

“Our major customers come from the dairy, Mexican food and other frozen food businesses," Reeves said, although the company also makes boxes for field ag use as well.

The new facility will also be the corporate office for both Kaweah Container and parent company Wileman Bros & Elliott. Reeves said the new building will house around 100 hourly workers and 30 to 40 administrative staff who will relocate from the leased Visalia facility.

Helping to make the purchase possible is the sale of Wilman Bros & Elliott’s CCPI juice plant in Lindsay, which was announced recently. "We wanted to use the capital in what we see as our core business,” said juice plant owner Tommy Elliott. The firm has its roots in tree fruit and citrus growing in Cutler-Orosi and Visalia.

Tulare County has a major presence in the container and packaging industry, including the No. 1 player in the business — International Paper — with a big cup-making plant in Visalia employing 320 and International Paper’s Weyerhaueser division employing 150 in Exeter at a corrugated box-making plant.

Tulare County Economic Development Corp. Manager Mike Washam said a ribbon cutting ceremony for Kaweah Container is planned for December. Washam says when Kaweah bought the building, a temporary tenant — GreenTech, Inc., moved its small operation to a vacant building in Sultana.

Since the Goshen Avenue plant closed in 2007, Reynolds sold the property to an investment group who sold it this month to Kaweah Container. The property had been on the market for $9.2 million in 2010, but sold for about $5.3 million.

Handling the sale were Doug Burr of Burr Commercial, Arnel Koster of Schuil & Associates and Matt Graham of Hyde Commercial.

Burr said this year industrial property is selling for $20 to $25 per square foot. "The good news is that 90 percent of the buyers this year have been owner/operators,” instead of just investors, he said.

That means active businesses are filling empty buildings.