Robert Rodriguez, region manager for West Coast distribution for Hilti, Inc., a European maker of industrial tools, stands in one of two distribution centers his company has in the Visalia Industrial Park, along with a separate repair building. He said the park is a sweet spot for transporting goods within a day across California and to much of Arizona and Nevada. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
With work underway to build Amazon and Ulta fulfillment centers in south Fresno, and plans to convert a former tire plant in Hanford into an electric car plant, three new buildings totaling more than 400,000 square feet in the Visalia Industrial Park didn’t grab a lot of attention from the general public.
But among people involved in manufacturing, warehousing and other businesses needing large spaces, the buildings commissioned by Diversified Development Group in Fresno, which has been developing and leasing commercial structures here for more than two decades, has drawn a lot of attention.
So much so that DDG, which built the buildings on spec, had two of the buildings leased or were negotiating leases on them with multiple tenants before construction was done. DDG Vice President Marcus Pignotti said he believes a lease deal for a single business to entirely occupy the 166,000-square foot third building is close at hand.
With that kind of interest among businesses to get into the Visalia Industrial Park, “That explains why we’re in site plan review for our next four buildings,” that would comprise another 689,000 square feet of combined industrial space on a separate, 33-acre parcel in the Industrial Park in northwest Visalia, Pignotti said.
Beyond that, DDG purchased last year another 150 acres of undeveloped land in the Industrial Park, where the company plans to build up to three million more square feet of industrial space, which could include a single, 1 million-square foot building, he said.
DDG isn’t the only business looking to develop or expand in the Visalia Industrial Park.
From 2016-2017, Visalia issued permits for more than 804,000 square feet of new buildings in the Industrial Park. In fact, in terms of new industrial development and expansions, experts say the Visalia Industrial Park and the neighboring Visalia Business Research Park are some the most active commercial real estate spots in the Valley after south Fresno.
Beside what DDG has in store, the former Heller Performance Polymers plant on Doe Avenue has been demolished, the ground leveled and now the owners are planning to build two 400,000 and more than 300,000 square-foot buildings there once they line up tenants, said Marty Zeeb, a Visalia commercial real estate broker.
In addition, UPS, which has had a distribution center in the Industrial Park for decades, has gotten so busy shipping packages that it recently purchased 58 acres, with plans to build a second state-of-the-art distribution center in the Industrial Park, while Golden State Overnight — a regional shipping service — has outgrown its facility, and is building a new, nearly 63,000-square-foot-facility.
Meanwhile, Perfection Pet Food — a division of Goshen’s Western Milling — is building a nearly 152,000-square-foot office and distribution center, while Hydrite Chemical Co. recently completed a more than $16.1 million expansion and capital improvement project.
That doesn’t include the 100-acre Research Park, where a 94-room Marriott Residence Inn and an Arco AM/PM convenience store and gas station are being built near the Fresno Pacific University satellite campus and two car dealerships already on the mostly vacant set of parcels.
It’s a far cry from the area’s modest beginnings in the mid 1960s, when businessmen Al Blain, Dana Clancy and Lloyd Pendergraft spearheaded an effort to widen Visalia’s mostly ag-based economy by creating sites zoned for various sorts of industrial businesses and purchased “not the best farmland” from Florence Doe, recalled Harry Tow, who was city manager at the time.
“They thought we needed an industrial park where industry didn’t have to think about putting in utilities and streets. It was done for them,” he said, adding that Blain, Clancy and Pendergraft had Visalia’s best interests at heart — so much so that as far as Tow knows, Blain, Clancy ad Pendergraft “didn’t make a dime off it.”
In the five decades or so since, the Business Park has grown from a handful of businesses to 379 — from Far West Distributors, which employs just five people, to VF Outdoor, a clothing distribution center employing about 1,200.
It isn’t just your usual industrial park with one big building or several comparable buildings and warehouses occupying one parcel. Instead, the Visalia Industrial Park is like a city in a city comprised of more than 16.6 million square feet of buildings occupying 381 acres spread over multiple blocks, with different buildings constructed in their own, particular styles.
Based on 2015 U.S. Census estimates, the latest figure Visalia officials could provide, 6,932 people worked at the Industrial Park, a third of them Visalia residents. Considering the expansions and new developments since then, the number likely has grown.
Before the recession, new developments were active in the Industrial Park but lulled in the years the economy spiraled, Zeeb said. But as that period passed and the economy improved, developers started actively planning again in 2013 and 2014, and over the last two or three years a lot construction and permitting has followed, he said.
The Industrial Park has several tenants with national and international reach, mostly involved in manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, including Jo-Ann Stores, Inc., VF and VWR — the latter a global supplier of lab and pharmaceutical supplies.
One of the main reasons is that Visalia is a “sweet spot” for most businesses with customers on the West Coast, whether they’re individuals ordering items via the web or department stores and other business selling those goods, said Robert Rodriguez, region manager for West Coast distribution for Hilti, Inc., a European maker of industrial tools which operates two distribution buildings and a separate repair center in the Visalia Industrial Park.
“Its a great spot for transit time,” he said.
Of course, Fresno can make the same claim, and Amazon officials have acknowledged that’s a big part of why it’s locating its 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center there.
The Visalia Industrial Park was in consideration for the Amazon and Ulta facilities, as well as a fulfillment center for Nordstrom department stores in 2016, but they all went elsewhere.
“We’re not chasing the big fish only,” said Devon Jones, Visalia’s economic development manager, noting that leasing several 25,000-squre foot buildings can create as many jobs locally as a single “big fish” tenant.
He noted that if an Amazon-sized business or a larger one ever wants to locate here, there remains about 1,000 acres of undeveloped pre-zoned land in the Industrial Park still available, all with sewage and other utilities close by to connect.
In fact, the City of Visalia last year submitted a proposal for Amazon to build its second headquarters in the city, along with numerous other U.S. cities that included Fresno.
Though the ecommerce giant opted not to consider any California sites, Mayor Warren Gubler said Amazon officials indicated they were “surprised” in a positive way by Visalia’s proposal, “and we weren’t even in their radar, and [now] we’re on their radar.
Among the selling points for the Industrial Park that several of the people interviewed noted is its close access to Highways 99 and 198.
In addition, “UPS is our best salesman, because you’ll have large companies that have locations on the East Coast and the South, the Indiana-Ohio area, Dallas. And when they need West Coast, UPS just looks at our area, Visalia being the perfect spot,” and recommends it, said Pignotti, noting that businesses increasingly rely on next-day delivery, and having a UPS hub literally blocks away in the Industrial Park is a big plus, as is having other next-day shippers there, including FedEx, Golden State Overnight and OnTrac.
Pignotti also credited Visalia’s government, which in recent years has streamlined the processes for permitting construction to the point that Jones said some permit applications can be approved within 30 days.
“Sometimes, less than that,” he said. “Because that’s the last thing somebody wants, being in some municipality where it takes forever to get a permit and get started, and they’ve had a delay, and they don’t want to do that again,” Pignotti said.
Among the reasons DDG builds in Visalia is “They’ve always met their timelines, they work with you, they get things going quickly. They don’t just sit around, so it has been good,” Pignotti said, adding that some cities can be extra attentive for Amazon-sized projects but are much less to smaller ones.
Rodriguez agreed, adding that “In the Hilti world — and we are global — Visalia is in discussions, mainly because of the support by the city and the [Visalia] Economic Development Corp.”
So much so that Hilti — which landed in the industrial park in the 1990s; moved later to a larger, 45,000-square-foot distribution center; opened a second, 20,000-sqare-foot distribution center; and opened a separate tool repair shop — is eyeing the industrial park to expand further, possibly tripling the current size of its distribution operations there, he said.
“My own personal perspective is Visalia has an excellent business park, and it’s known and it’s growing. There are warehouses and businesses going up left and right.”