– August 29, 2014

Tulare’s BMI Mechanical takes family biz honors

From left, Dax Brott poses with parents Bernadette and Garth behind BMI Mechanical's California Family Business Award. From left, Dax Brott poses with parents Bernadette and Garth behind BMI Mechanical's California Family Business Award. It was a reunion of sorts for Tulare County's own "Flying Burrito Brothers" amateur volleyball team at the 25th annual California Family Business Award dinner last night in Fresno.

Fred Ruiz, founder of frozen Mexican food giant Ruiz Foods, played on the team with lifelong friend Garth Brott, third-generation president of Tulare's BMI Mechanical, Inc. The families of both businessmen were in attendance at Pardini's as BMI Mechanical won the California Family Business Award.

Dax Brott, Garth's son and BMI Mechanical's future fourth-generation leader, accepted the award in front of nearly 160 guests representing the Central Valley's leading family businesses.

"We are always here for each other so we can be there for our customers," Dax said of the Brott family.

He also thanked the company's 34 employees and those from the past, dating back to the mechanical contractor's founding by Ernest Emmet "Double E" Brott in Burlington, Kansas in 1910.

Installation of a powdered milk system brought the Brotts to California Dairies in Tipton in 1927. Sensing opportunity, son Gail Brott helped establish a plumbing and sheet metal shop in Tulare in 1935. The company expanded as Garth came to the helm in the 1970s.

Today, BMI Mechanical provides heating, ventilation and air conditioning solutions for commercial clients throughout the state, from telecommunications companies, banks and hospitals to dairies, food processors and even the alternative energy industry

BMI Mechanical was among five finalists for the Central Valley's only family business award, bestowed annually by the Institute for Family Business at Fresno State's Craig School.

The finalists were:

• Fresno-based Agri-Valley Irrigation, a third generation irrigation company founded by Larry Rompal in 1983

• The Garabedian Group in Fresno, a second-generation financial consulting, accounting and advisory firm with roots dating back to 1985 with founder Dale Garabedian

• Clovis-based Jan Thomas Swim School, a second-generation school founded by Jan Thomas, who has taught nearly 60,000 kids how to swim since her start in 1958.

• Pickett & Sons Construction, a third-generation Fresno contractor founded in 1971, behind such projects as the new three-story headquarters of Fresno law firm McCormick Barstow.

A new honor for the program, called the Rising Star Award, was given to Salter's Distributing in Madera. The award goes to businesses that may not have the longevity of other family businesses, but exemplify their best practices. Founded in 1990 by David Salter, this second-generation family wholesaler provides goods — toys, batteries, tools, sunglasses, etc — to area retailers.

Delivering the keynote address of the night was Fred Ruiz, accompanied to the event with family members and key team members including wife Mitzie, daughter and Ruiz Foods Chair Kim Ruiz-Beck and CEO Rachel Cullen.

Ruiz was instrumental in the founding of the Institute for Family Business 25 years ago. He said family businesses must constantly evolve to survive and thrive, especially in the face of the digital revolution and unsure economy.

"A successful family business is a long-term goal, like a marathon that never ends," Ruiz said. "It's not a straight arrow."

Ruiz Foods, itself a third-generation business, is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Ruiz shared a slide presentation of the company's history, from humble beginnings to presidential visits and domination of the US frozen Mexican food market.

When Ruiz Foods got its start, a five-person burrito-making line with rudimentary equipment could churn out about 60 burritos an hour. Today, one person manning an automated line can make 65 burritos a minute.

The most moving part of Ruiz's talk was the story of when he and father Louis traveled to Washington in 1983 to receive the US Small Business Person of the Year Award from President Ronald Reagan. As part of the trip, award winners were treated to a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.

Unbeknownst to Fred, his father — a World War II Army veteran — was invited to participate in the ceremony alongside other military personnel. Fred choked up as he recalled the sight, his dad marching ramrod straight, executing sharp pivots as he carried the wreath.

"I had never seen my dad like that. It was like he was in Okinawa, back in World War II," Fred said. "He walked like a soldier."

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gordonwebstergordonwebster Gordon Webster - Publisher
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More than $5.2 million is on its way to Central Valley school districts as part of the first round of funding from the Prop. 39 Clean Energy Jobs Act. Approved by voters in November 2012, Prop. 39 relies on a five-year corporate tax to support energy efficiency and alternative energy projects at schools within the state. Under the initiative, up to $550 million is available every year for eligible projects. A little more than $381 was made available for the first 2013-14 fiscal year. Of that, the California Energy Commission approved $66 million to school districts that submitted energy expenditure plans for projects at 244 schools throughout the state. Around 36 schools in the Central Valley will be the first to see energy saving projects from the first round of Prop. 39 funding, with a total of $5.264 million going to schools and school districts in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties. The recipients in Fresno County are:• Central Unified School District: $3,379,735• Big Creek Elementary School District: $72,965 Kings County:• Hanford Elementary School District: $287,720• Hanford Joint Union High: $158,248 Madera County:• Sherman Thomas Charter School: $293,471• Chowchilla Union High School District: $293,471 Tulare County:• Terra Bella Union Elementary School District: $256,000• Columbine Elementary School: $172,327• Sunnyside Union Elementary: $76,682• Moson-Sultana Joint Union Elementary: $264,796• Alta Vista Elementary School District: $204,553 Any unallocated funds in the first year will roll forward into the second fiscal year. The California Energy Commission will accept energy expenditure plans for the second year in September. School districts can either submit one plan each year or a multi-year plan. Each school district approved this year had an option to receive part or all of their first-year award allocation for energy planning purposes. A full list of school districts approved in the 2013-14 fiscal year can be found at
Written on 08/28/2014, 2:05 pm by ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
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Written on 08/28/2014, 1:53 pm by ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
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Written on 08/28/2014, 1:50 pm by ANICK JESDANUN, AP Technology Writer
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Written on 08/28/2014, 1:11 pm by Associated Press
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Written on 08/28/2014, 12:37 pm by Business Journal staff
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Written on 08/28/2014, 12:29 pm by M.L. JOHNSON, Associated Press
(AP) — Dairy farmers squeezed in recent years by low milk prices and high feed costs can begin signing up next week for a new program replacing old subsidies that didn't factor in the price of corn. Signups for the new program will run Sept. 2 to Nov. 28, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Thursday. Farmers must enroll then to participate in the program in what's left of 2014 and in 2015. They will have annual signups after that. The new program is a kind of insurance that pays farmers when the difference between milk prices and feed prices shrink to a certain level. The previous program paid farmers when milk prices sank too low, but didn't account for their costs. Dairy farmers have struggled in recent years even with good milk prices. Feed costs rose because of demand for corn from the ethanol industry and droughts, including one in 2012 that covered two-thirds of the nation. The price for benchmark December corn on Thursday as $3.67, compared to about $5.90 two years ago. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, warned farmers not to be complacent. In 2009 and 2012, milk gluts sent prices tumbling below the cost of production. "Dairy prices are very high right now ... but you only have to have about a 1 or 1.5 to 2 percent surplus, and every dairy farmer knows that can go into a tailspin," said Leahy, who joined Vilsack in announcing the program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has an online tool to help farmers figure out how much insurance they need. Farmers can buy catastrophic coverage for $100 per year. It would pay if the difference between milk prices and feed costs sank to less than $4 per hundred pounds of milk on average. If a bigger margin is needed to make ends meet, farmers can buy additional coverage and pay a higher premium. Ralph McNall, who has 200 Holsteins in Fairfax, Vermont, said the margin protection program is "as fair a program as they could hope to achieve," and most local farmers are OK with it. He said he appreciated the fact that it took feed prices into account. Dairy economist Mark Stephenson said one difference between the dairy program and home or auto insurance is that most people don't know when they will have a car accident or home fire, but dairy farmers often have some warning of a milk glut or spike in feed prices. "It's not going to be a perfect forecast, but you'll know generally if it's going to be a good year or bad year," he said. Another challenge is that the program uses national averages to calculate the margin, so farmers have to figure out how their local markets compare, said Stephenson, the director of the Center for Dairy Profitability at the University of Wisconsin. "So, if you knew that in 2013, you were OK, but you had some difficulties — 2012 was really bad — you might decide that a $5 margin was when you had a really hard time," Stephenson said. But, he added, "Once you determine that, you don't have to do that all the time. You just need to look at the forecast for the year ahead." State extension services and USDA's Farm Service Agency will provide training for farmers signing up for the program, Vilsack said.
Written on 08/28/2014, 12:27 pm by MAE ANDERSON, AP Technology Writer
(AP) — Imagine using your phone to snap a photo of the cool pair of sunglasses your friend is wearing and instantly receiving a slew of information about the shades along with a link to order them. It's a great idea — but it doesn't quite work. Though many companies are trying to make "visual search" a reality, this seemingly simple notion remains elusive. Take Amazon, which made visual search a key feature in its new Fire smartphone. The e-commerce company says the feature, known as Firefly, can recognize 100 million items. It's similar to a Flow feature Amazon has on its apps for other phones. So far, Firefly can reliably make out labels of products such as Altoids or Celestial Seasonings tea. That makes it easy to buy items such as groceries online. But try it on a checkered shirt or anything without sharp corners, and no such luck. "It works really well when we can match an image to the product catalog," says Mike Torres, an Amazon executive who works on the Fire's software. "Where things are rounded or don't have (visual markers) to latch on to, like a black shoe, it's a little harder to do image recognition." Visual search is important to retailers because it makes mobile shopping a snap — literally. It's much easier to take a picture than to type in a description of something you want. Shopping on cellphones and tablets is still a small part of retail sales, but it's growing quickly. That makes it important to simplify the process as much as possible — especially as people look to visual sites such as Instagram and Pinterest as inspiration for purchases. "Retailers are trying to get the user experience simple enough so people are willing to buy on their phones, not just use it as a research tool," eMarketer analyst Yory Wurmser said. Mobile software that scans codes, such as QR codes and UPC symbols, are fairly common. Creating apps that consistently recognize images and objects has been more challenging. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru believes it could take at least three more years. Since 2009, Google's Goggles app for Android has succeeded in picking up logos and landmarks. But Google says on its website that the app is "not so good" at identifying cars, furniture and clothes in photos. What's holding visual search back? The technology works by analyzing visual characteristics, or points, such as color, shape and texture. Amazon's Firefly, for example, identifies a few hundred points to identify a book and up to 1,000 for paintings. U.K. startup Cortexica uses 800 to 1,500 points to create a virtual fingerprint for the image. It then scans its database of about 4 million images for a match. Without easily identifiable markers, non-labeled objects are difficult to identify. Lighting conditions, photo quality, distance, angles and other factors can throw the technology off. Visual search works best when there is a clearly defined image on a white background. Some retailers are finding success with visual search by keeping the selection of searchable products limited. Target's new "In a Snap" app works only with items from its Room Essentials furniture, bedding and decor line. And it works only when snapping a product image in a magazine ad, not when you see the actual product on a shelf. When a shopper scans the ad, items pop up for the shopper to add to a shopping cart., an online shoe retailer, keeps visual search limited to shoes. Shoppers upload pictures or send links of shoes and are offered similar pairs for sale on the company's website. "People shop through images nowadays," CEO Eric McCoy says. "We want to give them the exact shoe, or something similar." So, the race is on to perfect the technology that will create smartphone apps that easily recognize objects in a real-world environment. Cortexica's founders spent seven years on academic research before forming the company in 2009. Since then, it has been trying to mold the technology work more like the human brain when it comes to identifying objects. "Someday you'll be taking a picture of a whole person, and it will identify the different the things they're wearing and offer recommendations," says Iain McCready, CEO of Cortexica. "That's really challenging technically, but that's what people tell me they really want to do." The U.K. company was hired by eBay to develop an app that recognizes cars from behind and matches them with similar cars available on eBay. Next, eBay asked Cortexica to develop a similar app for fashion. The outcome was Find Similar, which analyzes a clothing item's color, texture and shapes to find similar items available for sale. Find Similar is now being used by startup app Style Thief and other Cortexica clients. Superfish, a startup in Palo Alto, California, counts 12 people with doctorate degrees on its staff and has 10 patents for visual search technology. Its technology can be found at PetMatch, an app that matches photos of pets with local pets available for adoption. Superfish CEO Adi Pinhas believes it will be normal in two or three years to use your smartphone to search for things visually. "Your camera will be as smart as the rest of your smartphone," he says. Once that happens, Forrester's Mulpuru says, it will "unleash a whole new type of e-commerce."
Written on 08/28/2014, 12:19 pm by 
MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press
(AP) — On the second day of class at Reading Senior High School, teacher Eric Knorr directs his students' attention to the banners hanging on the wall. Syracuse. Temple. Brown. Penn State. All of them brought back by former students who bucked the odds and went to college. "You need to make sure you have a plan," Knorr exhorts the class. "Because your plan will lead to a banner, OK? It will lead to an opportunity to go to college." Long seen as a way out of poverty, higher education eludes most students at Reading High. The public schools here are plagued by low test scores in reading, math and science; the school district has one of the highest dropout rates in the state; and, in a city where almost 60 percent of the population is Hispanic, many students' parents speak little or no English. Yet, as another school year gets underway, Reading's Alvernia University is placing a $10 million bet that it can help kids in one of the nation's poorest cities get ready to do college work — and to succeed once they get there. The first five students selected for the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program joined Alvernia's freshman class last week, flush with full-tuition scholarships and plenty of support to help them make the transition from a high school where fewer than seven in 10 graduate. "I want to be the best that I can, and I just push myself," said Melisa Rivera, 18. "There's no obstacle I can't overcome." Alvernia, a small, private school started by Roman Catholic sisters, has partnered with the city's Olivet Boys & Girls Club on a program that aims to help hundreds of high school students get ready for college — any college — through an intensive four-year program of tutoring and mentoring. That effort launched in the spring. Additionally, as many as 20 city kids a year will get full scholarships to Alvernia, where they'll receive additional tutoring and mentoring. The university is raising money to endow the scholarships. "We can't forget about places like Reading," said David Myers, director of Alvernia's O'Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service. "We can't forget about these kinds of kids." Alvernia is patterning its program after one run by the Posse Foundation, a 25-year-old group that's recruited more than 5,000 high-achieving high school students from major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to receive full scholarships from partner colleges and universities. But there are important differences. Reading (pronounced REH'-ding) is a small, easily overlooked city of 88,000, while the students that Alvernia seeks to serve are not the ones who scored 1,400 on their SATs. They're typically average kids with potential — the ones who often slip through the cracks. Rivera said most of her childhood friends "took a wrong path" and "started to go with the wrong crowd." "They had the motivation when they were younger," said Rivera, "but they lost it."Alvernia had tried before to serve underprivileged teenagers in Reading, with little success. Only 20 percent graduated within six years. "We were bringing students here and they were not doing well," Myers said. "They weren't coming back after the first year." Alvernia realized it would have to do more to help. Among other requirements, students in the Reading Collegiate Scholars Program commit to a summer "bridge" program and to regular meetings with community and faculty mentors who will help make sure they stay on track. "You have to have a mentality that you want to succeed, to get out of that environment," said scholarship student and Reading native Juan Paula, 17, who's majoring in criminal justice and wants to be an officer in the Marine Corps. "Because you have people constantly trying to bring you into that environment, and if you're not strong-willed enough, you'll get dragged in." While their fellow freshmen moved into the dorms last week, the Reading crew assembled in a campus media suite to work on a video promoting their hometown — a city, they say, with a lot going for it despite its problems. Forget what you've heard, they told the camera. Give Reading a chance. They could've been talking about themselves.

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Written on 08/28/2014, 2:05 pm by ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer
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Written on 08/28/2014, 1:50 pm by ANICK JESDANUN, AP Technology Writer
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Written on 08/28/2014, 12:29 pm by M.L. JOHNSON, Associated Press
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