Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grant will help close 'digital divide'

By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen / Times-Herald, Vallejo Posted: 12/14/2011 01:02:41 AM PST

Solano County will share in a $450,000 grant meant to close the area's technology gap, Solano Economic Development Corporation spokeswoman Sandy Person said.

The California Public Utilities grant, to be distributed over the next three years to the East Bay Broadband Consortium, was approved earlier this month, Person said this week.

Funded by the California Advanced Services Fund, the program is intended "to help close the digital divide and promote innovative solutions to broadband infrastructure deployment, access and adoption needs and opportunities," she said. In other words, the idea is to make sure everyone in the area has Internet access, she said.

The consortium is a collaboration between the Solano Economic Development Corporation, the Contra Costa Economic Partnership, the East Bay Economic Development Alliance and the East Bay Community Foundation.

The first $150,000 will pay for the consortium to develop a broadband infrastructure plan "to make the East Bay a national and global leader," Person said. It also will help establish Get Connected East Bay!, a collaborative effort to provide free or low-cost access to computers and the Internet to all area residents, she said.

"We want to make sure every resident and business in the consortium area has reasonable access," Person said.

"It's about creating access to high-speed Internet connection (broadband) and basic digital literacy skills, which is essential to every aspect of life in today's economy," Person said. "There are access gaps, and this puts the people in those areas at a disadvantage. There are gaps in this county and this will help identify them."

Work on the plan is expected to start next month, she said.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Modular housing builder, Blu Homes, celebrates its new manufacturing facility at Vallejo's Mare Island

Posted: 12/02/2011 01:00:41 AM PST

Mare Island's former ship and submarine shop was reborn Thursday with a ceremonial flourish for its newest tenant, an event many hope Vallejo's post-bankruptcy economy will mirror.

Modular home builder Blu Homes' president Bill Haney cut the ceremonial ribbon at the company's new West Coast manufacturing facility before a crowd of more than 300 onlookers.

"This is a place American men and women ... came together to rebuild America's industrial power and stand up for Americans' values after our Pacific fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor," Haney told those gathered, "That same notion of coming together to rebuild a future is something that we want to be able to do, here."

The company, which began leasing the 250,000-square-foot former submarine and ship manufacturing and repair shop on Nimitz Avenue in September, has already hired 50 workers from the greater Vallejo area, and expects to add 30 more by year's end, Haney said.

"I really believe that Blu Homes and Vallejo are a perfect fit at a perfect time," Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis said during the ceremony. "I say that because we all on the council think it would be an excellent idea to have a 'green-tech' island here on Mare Island ... and this is the start."

Thursday's celebration drew local dignitaries, former Mare Island workers, potential Blu Homes clients and more. In addition to Haney and Davis, event speakers included Tom Sheaff, vice president for Lennar Mare Island, and Paul Guilfoyle, a Blu Homes board member and actor best known for his police detective role on the TV show "CSI."

Guilfoyle jokingly placed the entire audience under arrest before sharing why he had become part of the Blu Homes venture, with its "green" energy-efficient homes and construction.

"It's obvious that the game plan of home building has changed radically. The idea of these great giant castles of isolation based on fear, segregating community based on vanity, are going away like dinosaurs," Guilfoyle said. "Let's open up these doors, and let's all of us ... walk toward the light of the future, the Blu light."

Homes in various states of construction ringed parts of the building's perimeter, opened for viewing. The building, the size of four football fields, looks -- and is -- about four times too big for the amount of work going on inside right now, said company co-founder Maura McCarthy. She said she expects the facility to begin filling up within a year to 18 months.

"We loved the building, we love the area and the labor was the right fit for us," McCarthy said of Blu Homes' interest in the Mare Island site during a pre-ceremony tour.

Contact staff writer Jessica A. York at (707) 553-6834 or

Blu Homes, green vision may signal jobs revival for Vallejo

Posted: 12/05/2011 01:00:54 AM PST

For most struggling in the current economy, finding a job comes first, ideology second. But Mare Island industrial newcomer Blu Homes is aiming to package the two together, with a planned 80 local jobs created by year's end and a vision of no-waste manufacturing and an environmentally friendly "green" final product.

The company's available jobs, as with such opportunities in most areas, has a ready and willing audience.

Some 1,000 people turned out two months ago for the then-advertised 50 job openings with the 4-year-old company, with headquarters outside of Boston.

"(I am) so proud that they are in Vallejo, that they selected Vallejo, and the jobs that they'll create for the community, it's just exciting," Vallejo Economic Development Director Ursula Luna-Reynosa said. "Small businesses are ... creating this (new) economy. We often see new businesses with much smaller, 20 (to) 30 employees. This is a good size compared to that, and there are opportunities for it to grow. And the city is going to do whatever it can ... . We want to be there as they continue to grow."

Available workforce
Blu Homes officials said they were persuaded to set up shop in Vallejo because of the available workforce -- a combination of skilled workers prevalent in the East Bay, and the technological minds of Silicon Valley. The facility is likely one of the largest new manufacturing facilities to open this year in the Bay Area, officials said.

"Mare Island is continuing down the path of resurgence, and once again it's becoming a hub of economic activity in Vallejo and the North Bay," said Tom Sheaff, vice president of the former naval base's master developer, Lennar Mare Island, during the facility's opening ceremony Thursday.

Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis shared his support of not only the new company, but also its contribution toward the idea of a "green technology" island, clustering alternative energy and low environmental impact on Mare Island and Vallejo.

"I think it's kind of fitting that we take a historic shipyard that benefited the country and the world during war times, created jobs, and was a leader in shipbuilding and submarine building, and to bring a company that wants to revolutionize the way we build and sell homes," Davis said. "That is fantastic, it's a perfect fit."

In a pre-ceremony tour, Blu Homes co-founder and vice president of sales Maura McCarthy shared a similar sentiment concerning the facility's future on Mare Island.

"We're in the crown jewel of Mare Island, the biggest building," McCarthy said of the company's new 250,000-square-foot facility, a former Mare Island Naval Shipyard machine shop. "I believe in the cluster effect of green businesses. (The cluster) becomes much more a little mini-economy within an economy."

Happy for revival
The improvements, and reanimation of a long shuttered building -- the largest machine shop under one roof west of the Mississippi River in its time, former shipyard workers said, is something of a balm to the previous generation.

Several shipyard retirees commented on the most obvious change to the building -- its floor. New concrete replaced wooden blocks soaked in oil, a major improvement, some said. Friends John Chamberlin and Jack Tamargo served first as shop apprentices and later as general foremen for the former Building 680, the two said Thursday.

"When I came in the door, Aug. 15 of 1960, I looked all the way down the shop, and as far as you could see, there were nothing but individual machines and men running them and making parts," recalled Chamberlin, who now serves as secretary for the Mare Island Historic Park Foundation. "We were building ships and right around 800 men working here at the time ... in the war years we had 4,000 in the shop, in the '40s. "

Chamberlin said that while he does not think there's any comparison between the shop then and now, he supports Blu Homes' efforts to bring the facility back to life.

Tamargo recalled new equipment procured for the shop still coming in as the workforce was being reduced as the shipyard was nearing its 1996 closure.

"It was a sad thing to see, but we're glad to see the building is finally going to be used for something other than just a big empty building," Tamargo said.

"We wish Blu Homes well in their endeavor, that's for sure," Chamberlin added.

For more information Blu Homes and potential future job openings, visit the company's website online at, and click on the "careers" link at the bottom of the page.

Contact staff writer Jessica A. York at (707) 553-6834 or

Mare Island landmark building now home to Blu Homes

FAIRFIELD — Workers once built parts for submarines in massive, historic Building 680 on Mare Island, before the Mare Island Naval Shipyard closed in 1996.

Now workers will build prefabricated homes there, homes that are energy-efficient, constructed using green methods and designed so they virtually fold up for convenient shipping to their foundation. Long-vacant Building 680 is getting a new tenant in Blu Homes.

“That is now our crown-jewel plant,” Blu Homes co-founder Maura McCarthy said. “This plant is the biggest plant we have. Ironically, even though it’s a beautiful, old historic building, it’s going to be an extremely modern plant.”

The Navy constructed the building at the dawn of World War II and made it big. The structure is 257,750 square feet and has a central bay that is the equivalent of 10 stories tall.

And Building 680 is more than just another Mare Island industrial building for an additional reason. It has a sign at its top saying “Mare Island Naval Shipyard” that can be seen from the other side of Mare Island Strait along the Vallejo waterfront, giving it a high profile.

But the days of building propellers and periscopes there are gone. Blu Homes will be constructing homes that have most everything in place prior to shipping, from the electrical and plumbing systems to the cabinets.

These homes range in price from about $166,000 to $495,000 and more. They come with names such as the Element and Breezehouse. They have steel frames, high ceilings and lots of windows.

Don’t think of the relatively simple-looking prefab homes that get hauled down the freeways in two halves. These are fancier buildings.

“The name ‘Blu’ comes from the idea of building something that’s beautiful and green,” McCarthy said. “These houses are like the Lexus hybrid. They are high-quality, really durable.”

After being built at the plant in six to eight weeks, the homes are folded almost like origami, trucked to a foundation and then unfolded, McCarthy said.

A video posted at shows how this works. The home sections arrive at a site looking like rectangular boxes. A crane then unfolds parts of the box, revealing a house with a far different shape over the course of a couple of days.

Blu Homes looked at some 25 sites in various states before settling on Building 680. One thing the Mare Island building had in its favor was its sheer size and height.

“We need to be able to build a two-story building,” McCarthy said.

Then there’s its location. The plant will be industrial, but use high-tech software. McCarthy said Mare Island is near to Silicon Valley and that such other possible plant locations as Arizona don’t have “the type of powerhouse brain trust” that can be found in the Bay Area.

Plus, Tom Steyer encouraged Blu Homes to locate in California, McCarthy said. Steyer is founder of Farallon Capitol Management and co-founder of OneCaliforniaBank, as well as an environmentalist.

Blu Homes might employ 50 or so workers on Mare Island, but could ultimately offer hundreds of jobs, McCarthy said.

“It all depends on demand,” she said. “Everybody is suffering a little bit in housing right now. The good news is this kind of housing is a bright spot in the housing industry.”

And Building 680 is now a bright spot in Mare Island’s ongoing, time-consuming and often painful rebirth after the naval shipyard got shuttered 15 years ago.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or

Chambers of commerce give out Spirit of Solano awards

FAIRFIELD — Solano County’s chambers of commerce on Thursday honored local businesses and community members, such as Meyer Corp. and Travis Credit Union, for their contributions to the community.

They did so at the Spirit of Solano luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn. About 325 people attended the sold-out event hosted by Westamerica Bank and the Solano Economic Development Corp.

“This gives us an opportunity to publicly recognize how important business is to our local economy,” Solano EDC President Sandy Person told the gathering. “You are the backbone of our economic well-being.”

Meyer Corp., the cookware giant with its main distribution center on 58 acres in Solano Business Park, won recognition from the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce. It opened a 165,000-square-foot, 100-foot-tall warehouse in 2010 that has an automated storage and retrieval system.

“We appreciate your commitment to the Chamber of Commerce and your investment in our community,” Chamber of Commerce President Barry Young said.

Ed Blackman of Meyer Corp. in turn praised Fairfield. Meyer Corp. got unbelievable cooperation from the city in constructing its buildings, he said.

“Solano is a great place to live and a great place to work,” said Blackman, senior vice president of logistics and facilities.

Mark Warcholski, director of warehouse operations, also accepted the award on behalf of Meyer Corp.

The Vacaville Chamber of Commerce honored Travis Credit Union. Among other things, chamber officials praised the credit union for being involved in helping nonprofit organizations ranging from Boys & Girls Clubs to Habitat for Humanity.

Foster’s Bighorn Restaurant and Bar won the Spirit of Solano award from the Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce. Owners Howard and MaryEllen Lamothe are prominent members of the chamber, chamber officials said. Howard Lamothe is a fourth-generation Rio Vistan who previously owned Henry’s Coffee Shop and bought Foster’s Bighorn in 2001.

Other Spirit of Solano honorees were:

  • Michael Paric of Computer Business Solutions, honored by the Benicia City Council.
  • Max Villalobos, manager of the Kaiser Permanente Napa/Solano service area, honored by the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce.
  • Jim and Kathy Ernest of Ramtown Karate, honored by the Dixon Chamber of Commerce.
  • Mary Bitagon of Vallejo, honored by the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce of Solano County.
  • Roberto Cortez of Vallejo, president of Monarch Engineering, honored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Solano County.
  • Ruby Joyce Barnett, owner of Ruby Joyce Barnett Nationwide Insurance Agency in Vallejo and Oakland, honored by the Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or

Businesses receive Spirit of Solano status

Robin Miller/ Published By The ReporterPosted: 12/02/2011 07:59:50 AM PST
Struggling businesses and a tough economy may be dominating headlines across the nation but on Thursday, local civic and business leaders took time out to praise a handful of firms they say are thriving examples of what makes Solano County tick.
In all, nine local businesses were honored with the Spirit of Solano award at a standing-room-only Fairfield luncheon. The award recognizes local chambers of commerce and honors businesses that embody the entrepreneurial spirit of the region.

"We are living in some trying times when our economic structure is challenged from every side," Solano EDC President Sandy Person told the crowd of some 300 people at the event hosted by Westamerica Bank and the EDC at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairfield. "But it is appropriate that we honor each of you. You are the backbone of the economic wellbeing of our county."

She praised the businesses for their continued support of nonprofits, schools, churches and other agencies in the county, saying, "There is nothing we can't achieve if we continue to build on your many accomplishments."

Each of the businesses honored Thursday were nominated by local chambers of commerce. For Vacaville, the nominee was Travis Credit Union and Board Chairman Curt Newland couldn't have been prouder.

"This award follows the idea of people helping people," he said, adding that Travis is all about helping people. "We are proud of the work we do with groups and nonprofits and very proud of the financial literacy programs we have for teens and seniors," he said. That helping spirit is part of what earned Travis the award, chamber officials noted.

In Dixon, the award went to Ramtown Karate and its owners Jim and Kathy Ernest. Feted for their contributions to the community, individuals and families, the Ernests expressed amazement at the award. "We were surprised ... because we forget we're a business," Kathy Ernest told the crowd. "The business part of it is such a small part of what we get out of what we do."

Other winners included: Meyer Corporation in Fairfield; Computer Business Solutions in Benicia; businesswoman Marin Bitagon, nominated by the Filipino-American Chamber of Commerce; Monarch Engineering President and CEO Robert Cortez, nominated by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Foster's Bighorn in Rio Vista; Ruby Joyce Barnett and Nationwide Insurance, nominated by the Solano County Black Chamber of Commerce; and Kaiser Permanente in Vallejo.

Picks & Pecks Editorial from The Reporter

Solano County's entrepreneurial spirit was strong Thursday as nine businesses received Spirit of Solano awards from the Solano Economic Development Corp. In northern Solano County, the winners included Vacaville's Travis Credit Union; Dixon's Ramtown Karate, owned by Jim and Kathy Ernest; the Meyer Corp. of Fairfield; and Foster's Bighorn in Rio Vista. Picks to all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

After slumping below growth neutral last month, the San Joaquin Valley Business Conditions Index rose above growth neutral 50.0 for November.

For More Information Contact:
Ernie Goss Ph.D., 559-278-2352
University Business Center
Craig School of Business
California State University, Fresno
San Joaquin Valley Leading Economic Indicator Advance:

Minimal Job Gains for November
November survey results at a glance:

- Leading economic indicator moves above growth neutral.
- Firms report net job gains for the month after four months of losses.
- Over the next six months, approximately one-fifth of firms expect to add workers and 20 percent anticipate layoffs, while the remaining 59 percent look for level employment.
- Business managers anticipate wholesale prices to grow by 3.2 percent over the next six months or approximately 6.4 percent on an annualized basis.

PMIs for U.S. & San Joaquin Valley, 2010-11

Oct. Dec. Feb. April June Aug. Oct.
U.S. San Joaquin Valley
San Joaquin Business Conditions Index ¡V p. 2 of 3
For Immediate Release: December 1, 2011

Fresno, CA - After slumping below growth neutral last month, the San Joaquin Valley Business Conditions Index rose above growth neutral 50.0 for November. The survey from individuals making company purchasing decisions in firms in the counties of Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare continues to point to slow to no growth in the coming months. The index, a leading economic indicator for the area, is produced using the same methodology as that of the national Institute for Supply Management (

Overall Index: The index, produced by Ernie Goss Ph.D., Research Associate with the Craig School of Business at California State University, Fresno, advanced to 51.7 from 48.1 in October. An index greater than 50 indicates an expansionary economy over the course of the next three to six months. Survey results for the last three months for the San Joaquin Valley are listed in the accompanying table. ¡§Based on our surveys over the past several months, I expect growth to weaken and potentially turn negative in the next three to six months,¡¨ said Goss. Employment: The hiring gauge increased to a tepid 50.3 from October¡¦s weak 44.7. This is the fifth consecutive month that the employment index has plunged below growth neutral. ¡§Manufacturing and construction firms continue to shed jobs. Both durable and non-durable goods manufacturers detailed pullbacks in hiring for the month,¡¨ said Goss. ¡§Employment data indicate that the region¡¦s employment level bottomed in August 2011. Since then, the area has added almost 5,000 jobs. However, even with these gains, the region will have to add almost 24,000 to return to pre-recession employment levels,¡¨ said Goss. This month firms were asked about their hiring expectations for the next six months. ¡§More than one-fifth, or 21 percent, expect to add workers, 20 percent anticipate layoffs, while the remaining 59 percent look for level employment for the next six months. ¡§These expectations are somewhat more optimistic than September 2011 when 33 percent expected layoffs in the next six months,¡¨ said Goss. Wholesale prices: The prices-paid index, which tracks the cost of raw materials and supplies, dipped to a somewhat inflationary 63.8 from October¡¦s 66.7. ¡§As area growth has waned, so have inflationary pressures at the wholesale level. Lower inflation in the pipeline gave the Federal Reserve room to take the coordinated monetary easing action it initiated yesterday with five other central banks,¡¨ reported Goss.
This month supply managers were asked how much they expected prices of products they buy to increase in the next six months. Approximately 20 percent of the supply managers expect these prices to grow by more than 6 percent during the next six months. Overall, supply managers anticipate prices to grow by 3.2 percent over the next six months or approximately
San Joaquin Business Conditions Index ¡V p. 3 of 3
6.4 percent on an annualized basis. ¡§Last December when we asked the same question, supply managers expected annualized price growth of 5.6 percent. Thus, anticipated wholesale price growth has increased by 0.8 percentage points since last December,¡¨ said Goss.
Inventories: Businesses expanded inventories at a slow pace for the month. The inventory index, which tracks the change in the inventory of raw materials and supplies, advanced to 50.4 from 43.7 in October. ¡§The lack of any significant buildup in inventories is another indicator of a negative outlook by businesses,¡¨ reported Goss
Business Confidence: Looking ahead six months, economic optimism, captured by the November business confidence index, rose to a still anemic 42.5 from 37.0 in October. ¡§Both U.S. and global economic uncertainty and slow growth continue to restrain economic confidence among individuals making purchasing decisions for their firms,¡¨ said Goss. Trade: For a fifth straight month, firms experienced a pullback in new export orders to 43.8. While this was up from October¡¦s 41.7, it still indicates reductions in export orders from October. At the same time the area¡¦s import index stood at a weak 47.5, but up from October¡¦s 36.7 and September¡¦s 41.9. ¡§Slow area growth and weakening global business continue to push trade numbers below growth neutral for the area,¡¨ said Goss. Other components: Other components of the November Business Conditions Index were new orders at 52.3, up from 48.1 in October; production or sales at 49.2, up from 48.3; and delivery lead time at 56.1, up from 55.6 in October. Table 1 details survey results for the last three months. December survey results will be released on the first business day of next month, January 2.
Table 1: Overall and component indices for last 2 months and one year ago (above 50.0 indicates expansion)
San Joaquin Valley
November 2010
October 2011
November 2011
Leading economic indicator
New orders
Production or sales
Delivery lead time
Wholesale prices
Export orders
Business confidence
Craig School of Business:
Follow Goss: Twitter at or