Hundreds of new jobs for Gilroy

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McCarthy Business Park off Pacheco Pass Highway.

Hundreds of new jobs and truckloads of natural and organic foods are coming to Gilroy.
Rhode Island-based United Natural Foods, Inc., the largest publicly traded wholesale distributor to the natural, organic and specialty foods industry in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website, has chosen Gilroy as the location for a new distribution center and hopes to be operational by July 2015, according to President Tammy Brownlow for the Gilroy Economic Development Corporation.
“Of course I’m excited,” said Mayor Don Gage, confirming the news. “They’re bringing 500 jobs and filling 700,000-square feet of building.”
And they’re not minimum wage jobs, either.
Development Center Manager for the City, Lee Butler, said UNFI hopes to have 141 warehouse jobs, 55 transportation jobs and 48 support staff jobs filled by June 2016, based on the company’s presentation to City staff in February.
Warehouse employees will receive at most $42,000 a year, transportation employees will top out at $70,000 annually and support employees can expect at most $48,000, Butler said. That’s roughly 250 new jobs by the completion of phase one. After phase two is complete, Butler said UNFI plans on occupying up to 800,000-square feet of building.
Right now, the company is “pretty much done with negotiations with the landowner [the McCarthy Ranch Business Park] and they’re going through one last phase,” Gage said. “I would say they’re probably a month away from closing the deal and then they have to start submitting their plans to the City.”
The business will fill 75-acres of the 96-acre McCarthy Business Park on Highway 152, between Cameron Boulevard and Camino Arroyo, just east of U.S. 101. Development of the land and construction of the distribution center will be completed in two phases, Brownlow said. UNFI describes its facilities as “the most modern, state-of-the-art centers in our industry.”
UNFI has dozens of other distribution centers scattered across the United States and Canada – two of those are in California – and employs close to 7,000 employees, according to the company’s website. UNFI identifies itself as the country’s leading independent national distributor of natural foods and related wellness products including nutritional supplements, personal care items and organic produce. It caters to major retailers including Whole Foods, Costco and Wild Oats, to name just a few.
The company serves more than 27,000 customer locations; expects net sales during this year of more than $5.8 billion; and was ranked by Fortune magazine in 2006 through 2010 and 2012 as one of its “Most Admired Companies,” according to UNFI’s website.
“We’re pleased to have them. Once you get anchors in the community [like UNFI], people start noticing this is a great place to be. And more start coming,” said Gage. “What they’re really saying by coming here is something we’ve been saying all along: we’re a crossroads in this county.”
The process of finalizing UNFI’s move to Gilroy has been a yearlong process from initial contact with the company’s consultant to where the project stands now, Brownlow explained.
The next steps are for UNFI’s building – which will be in the same business park as the Tractor Supply Company, Sonic and Subway – to go through an environmental impact review as required by California’s Environmental Quality Act, examining potential impacts to the community, nearby traffic and other factors.
Brownlow said UNFI will rank in the top tier of private sector employers in Gilroy. The largest is Christopher Ranch, which at full capacity employs 800, followed by Olam International on Pacheco Pass Highway, which employs 500 at full capacity, according to Brownlow. In the public sector, the largest employer is the Gilroy Unified School District with 900 employees, followed by Saint Louise Regional Hospital with 550 employees, based on the EDC’s latest employer survey.
“It will take a while to ramp up over the course of two years, but once the plant is operational they will bring on approximately 300 new employees within the first 30 months,” Brownlow said. “We are just really excited…it’s been a long time coming for a project to come along that brings this many jobs. Beyond the initial investment, it’s initial impacts go far beyond that. Contractors and subcontractors, retailers, lodging businesses and more will benefit. Economic impacts for any project are much broader than meets the eye.”
Gage said UNFI still has complete negotiations with the landowner – then has to submit plans to the City and begin the environmental impact review process. But he’s not anticipating anything to fall through.
“They could still say goodbye, but they are so far and so deep into it I suspect within a month they’ll close out all those issues (regarding street design and traffic impact) then start the planning process. We’ll be here to help them through the process quickly – it means a lot of jobs,” Gage said.
Brownlow added that Gilroyans can expect the company to be an active part of the community.
“I’ve been told by UNFI officials that they have a track record of being very involved in the community where their facilities are located,” Brownlow said.
Part of UNFI’s mission is “to be an outstanding partner in the communities where we work, supporting them economically, and making meaningful contributions to the quality of life.”
In August 2012, UNFI established a charitable foundation that funds nonprofit programs in areas from sustainable agriculture and organic farming to initiatives aiming at increasing organic food production and consumption among at-risk populations, according to the foundation’s 2012 tax records.
Multiple calls for comment to UNFI representatives were not returned.
Gage credits a gamut of City staff, including Brownlow, Planning Department personnel and City Administrator Tom Haglund for helping facilitate the arrival of a major company that will generate significant employment opportunities in South County.
“We are trying to grow manufacturing, especially food manufacturing, because we have a small industry cluster we want to grow,” Brownlow said.

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