Target hits bull's-eye in Central California

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. /Central California EDC Assn./ -- The Target Corporation, America's fourth largest retailer, hit a bull's-eye when it selected the Central California community of Shafter for a 1.7 million square foot distribution center. The community's location in the state's population center is ideal for logistics, but the company has also enjoyed unprecedented governmental cooperation and an outstanding workforce that's already ahead of the curve in every efficiency category.

After only a few months operation, the Shafter facility is performing well ahead of all initial goals. Bob Grove, Human Resources and Development Manager with Target Distribution, credits the company's early success to the local labor force's strong work ethic. "The availability of a skilled, dedicated workforce enabled us to build a team that has exceeded all of our expectations."

Labor was a critical issue for Target, says Jesse Mach, Kern Economic Development Corp. business developer. "They brought in a separate consultant to evaluate the labor market. They met with six or seven local employers in a single day to discuss hiring experiences—from entry level to highly-skilled workers."

The consultant's heavy schedule was typical of the entire selection process. Only eight months elapsed between Target's first contact with the EDC and project announcement. From permits to completion, the building took just over a year to construct—an amazing feat, considering the facility was the largest tilt-up concrete structure built in the nation during 2002. (The building is so large, the cement pad contractor has submitted it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest contiguous slab.)

Fast track projects are common throughout Central California, where a pro-business environment works to minimize obstructions and delays. "We have a short permitting process in Kern County," says Mach. "In some areas of California it can take months or even a year just to get permits. Shafter has its act together and at one point the city was actually waiting on Target."

"We had our homework done," says Jeremy Tobias, Shafter's director of community and economic development. "The city has done a good job of entitling land. We have land available and ready to move on."

He says the city fathers want to avoid the frustration companies face when they select a site only to find themselves stuck in a quagmire of environmental issues and other concerns. "Shafter has spent years making sure properties are zoned correctly and that entitlements are lined up," he says. "It was important to Target to move quickly and the grading permits were issued in less than a week."

Shafter (pop. 13,211) is located in the southern end of California's Central Valley, about 20 miles north of Bakersfield. The community's aggressive economic development program has won over a number of major manufacturers, including Elk Corp., GMC Roofing Materials, and GAF Corp. In 1997, the city doubled its geographical size when it annexed land designated for the International Trade and Transportation Center, an industrial complex with free-trade status. Target selected a 132-acre ITTC site.

The region is highly attractive to companies who compete in the California marketplace. Strategically, Central California offers one-day turn around times throughout the state, as well as to parts of Nevada and Arizona. Target's new distribution center, which is within minutes of the state's two primary north/south transportation routes (I-5 and Highway 99), is within four hours of 35 million consumers.

Central California also offers an abundance of land and more favorable land and labor costs than more urbanized areas in the state. The job-to-applicant ratio gave the company true hiring flexibility. And while the facility was still under construction, the local Career Services Center set the company up with a human resources office, complete with staff, phones and advertising and screening assistance. Three local job fares produced a pool of 8,500 applicants for an initial hiring of 500 employees.

"The company was able to select its employees from a large pool of highly-qualified applicants," says Mach. He adds that 70 percent of the positions were filled by residents of Shafter and the nearby communities of Wasco and Delano—all of which suffer from high unemployment rates due to the seasonality of their agriculturally based economies.

In addition to a strong work ethic, companies find lower turnover rates and a more affordable workforce in Central California. But this doesn't mean employees have a lower quality of life than their urban counterparts. Many of the West Coast's most affordable communities are located in Central California, and the region has become one of the fastest growing areas in the state as homebuyers seek new housing opportunities in family-friendly small town settings. (Average housing costs in Shafter are $78,900.)

Quality of life issues were a top concern for Target. Communities boast of quality school systems and opportunities for higher learning are growing, as evidenced by the new UC Merced campus. Cultural activities vary from community to community, but include symphonies, theatres, botanical gardens, zoos, museums and extensive parks and recreational programs. The nearby Sierra Mountain Range offers proximity to unlimited recreational opportunities, from Yosemite to Sequoia National Park and beyond. Residents have easy access to fishing, camping, hiking, biking, rock climbing, white water rafting, winter sports and a host of other outdoor activities.

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