The new agriculture processing plant, GCF Frozen, Inc., under construction on Fairview Road between San Felipe Road and Highway 156 in Hollister, is slated to be up and running by Oct. 5, according to Tim Chiala, general manager for the company.
“Most of our people currently working at the San Martin facility are coming down to Hollister,” Chiala said. “We don’t really know exactly which positions are going to be open until we get going. A lot of our people already live in Hollister and some more are relocating from Morgan Hill or San Jose.”
Chiala said that because the new facility will be highly automated, there will be a need for more skilled workers, including electricians and mechanics. He anticipates adding about 50 new positions.
“We currently employ about 150 people and go up to about 225 in the middle of the season, which is right now,” he said. “Typically, we would have shut down everything but one shift by the end of November, but this new facility will pretty much allow us to operate year-round. We’ll be able to keep more people employed longer.”
The majority of raw product will be sourced locally.
“That’s what attracted us in moving to Hollister,” Chiala said. “We can move from our summer crops, which are peppers and garlic, into the winter crops of leafy greens like spinach and kale, beets and squash that grow from January to June around Hollister and San Juan Bautista.”
The company will be working with local farms, while expanding its own growing operations.
Chaila said, “We expanded our operations into Hollister. We farm about 200 acres of organic and 800 to 1,000 acres of conventional. We’re working with local growers, especially those around Hollister, as we continue to expand. The best products with the best prices is grown around us.”
He explained that 90 percent of raw product is supplied locally, from Morgan Hill through the Salinas Valley to King City.
“Under our current program we do source some product from Mexico during the winter. We also do some exotic stuff, like ginger from Hawaii,” he said.
The company does not sell finished product to consumers, but is an ingredient supplier for major labels, such as Campbell Soups and Jamba Juice. It provides the jalapenos in jack cheese, as well as what consumers will find on their pizzas and inside burritos and other frozen entrees.
Ironically, the new facility is a direct result of literally too much business.
“The old facility in San Martin produces around 28 million pounds a year,” he said. “This new facility has an ability to triple that. We’re hoping to be at 46 million pounds by next year and well on our way to 60 million in three years.”
He said there was no consideration of running two facilities because the San Martin building was aging and could not meet new food-safety laws.
“Because of all the new food safety laws and regulations we decided to go with a state-of-art facility,” he said. “We’re upping our safety standards to adhere to the law, but also to become more attractive to our larger customers. Everything is controlled by PLCs (program logic controllers) through the computer and there will be a lot of people walking around with tablets controlling production lines. So, it was easier to start from the ground up.”
In setting up any new food-processing facility, water is always a concern, particularly during a four-year drought and state-mandated water restrictions.
“We wanted to spend extra money on our water treatment capabilities,” he said. “We will be able to re-use our wash water and provide it to the growers around us for irrigation. We use the water at least twice inside the facility, and then we’ll clean it up in the treatment pond, and then provide it to our neighbors. I think that’s the best use of the water.”
To finance the nearly $20 million facility, Chiala said the company went through American Ag Credit and Union Bank. Another big incentive for locating in Hollister was the cooperation from the local government.
“In other counties we’ve dealt with, it goes on for months to get anything done, which costs you more than any incentive program,” he said. “We started this in January and will be running in October. That’s an aggressive timeline. We’re still working through some issues, like impact fees.”
“We have plans to expand in order to produce over 100 million pounds of finished vegetables,” he said. “The first phase is 82,000 square feet and we want to build up to 200,000 square-feet in the next 10 to 15 years.”
For those interested in applying for jobs at the facility, Chiala said they should call 408-683-2182 and ask for human resources.
Chiala said the company always pays at least a dollar above minimum wage, with pay changing as the minimum wage increases. Pay for skilled positions will be competitive, he said.
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