San Joaquin County's top industries reflect the rich agricultural heritage of the Central Valley.
Mike Locke, president of the San Joaquin Partnership (an economic development corporation) says the area's historic roots are reflected in the operations of its two cornerstone companies, General Mills in Lodi and Del Monte Foods in Stockton.
But the region's excellent air, land and water transportation system is beginning to attract new ventures.
"Today we see a transition to more diverse companies locating here because of the transportation and available workforce," he reports. "An example is Safeway's warehouse distribution center in Tracy with its 1200 employees. Ford and Daimler-Chrysler plants have located here because the county is a central hub with its placement on Interstate 5 and rail access."
Other major companies with plant locations in San Joaquin include Duraflame and Lipton in Stockton, Nestle Foods in Lathrop and H.J. Heinz Co in Tracy. Dana Corporation, the world's largest supplier to vehicle manufacturers, has a plant in Stockton where it rolls off truck frames.
Locke says there has been a significant expansion of light manufacturing and backroom office operations. There are also the beginnings of a tech sector with Moore Technologies in Tracy and Alma Electronics in Lathrop, companies that left the Bay Area for cheaper land.
Call centers also are big business in the county. "Teletech Corporation, a contract service provider, has 800 employees and does sales for Allstate Insurance. Marriott's call center has 300 employees handling worldwide reservations."
Locke notes there is a fairly broad mix of small to midsize companies - from plastics purveyors to produce providers.
The Nut Niche
Originally formed in 1912 as Diamond Walnut Growers, Diamond of California in Stockton is a different kind of company. Its more than 2000 growers are also the
owners. Profits are returned to these small family operations who are happy to have a guaranteed market.
Through the years, Diamond was first to adopt many innovations, including resealable zipper bags. The company also was first to use state-of-the-art laser sorting machines to eliminate shell fragments. Diamond has long sought earth-friendly solutions to problems. For example, in the 1980s, the company built a cogeneration facility to cleanly and efficiently burn leftover walnut shells and provide power for the Stockton processing plant. Excess electricity is sold to a local utility company.
Diamond is the nation's leading exporter of walnuts to Europe and the Pacific Rim. Its workforce is made up of 400 full-time employees and 600 during harvest time.
Golden West Nuts in Ripon was established in 1983 and is one of the largest independent almond processing companies in the US. Whole natural almonds, as well as blanched, sliced and slivered almonds are processed and shipped to industrial food processors all over the world. During peak season, over 200 employees handle all phases of almond production, from growing to packaging and shipping.
The Smart & Final Story
Formerly known as Port Stockton Food Distributors, Smart & Final was a name that arose from the two pioneers in the wholesale grocery business, J.S. Smart and H.D. Final. They bought the distribution company in 1998, changing its name to Smart & Final Food Services.
"Smart & Final Foodservice is a division of Smart & Final Stores Corporation with about 280 locations in California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida," reports spokeswoman Debbie Mickelson. "From our Stockton facility, we distribute groceries to our stores located in Northern and Central California and Nevada with deliveries to 3500 foodservice customers that include restaurants, healthcare facilities and schools. Basically, we are both a retail grocer plus a foodservice distributor and still one of the largest companies in San Joaquin County."
Fruits of the Vine
Pacific Coast Producers, a large produce cooperative, is Lodi's largest non-government employer. Its apricots, pears, tomatoes, grapes and peaches are canned under many labels and sold to customers such as Albertson's, Safeway, Western Family and Vons. Earlier this year, PCP finalized a $9 million deal with Del Monte Foods for the purchase of its Contadina tomato processing plant in Woodland.
For more than 75 years, the Indelicato family in Manteca has been crafting fine wines while assembling a portfolio of world-class estate vineyards. Delicato Wines harvests more than 10,000 acres of vineyards located in the top grape-growing regions of the state. These range from the coastal cool of Monterey to the rich soil of Lodi.
In July of this year, Delicato Family Vineyard's 2000 Shiraz was awarded "Best of California" honors and "Best of Class - California State Appellation" at the California State Fair. In addition, Delicato earned five other medals including a gold medal for its 2000 Merlot.
Spokeswoman Dorothy Indelicato attributes the success of the business to the entire family working together and says creativity in the presentation of wines to the public is still the most fun. "In the future we want to concentrate on building our brands," she states. "And there are many other ideas on the table."
Human resources director Lillian Bynum agrees.
"We continue to raise the bar on wine quality and want to be-come better known around the globe," she says. "Working for a family business with an eye for the future enables us to be innovative and creative."
Although the wine industry has experienced a slowdown in the more expensive wines in the upper end restaurants, hotels, casino and resort businesses, Delicato's wines retail nationally between $6 and $12 per bottle, proving that quality doesn't have to cost a fortune.
"Our brands are perfectly positioned in these difficult times," she notes. "Consumers are looking for quality and value and we offer both."
Just like San Joaquin County itself.
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