FRESNO, CA (The Business Journal)

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The buzz of welders, smell of sandblasters, and sparks of welding arcs, all symbols of American manufacturing, are familiar senses at Modern Custom Fabrication’s (MCF) 78,000 square-foot industrial facility.

Located at 2421 California Avenue, MCF has a deep-rooted tradition of producing high quality fabricated tanks for various industries throughout the world. Although ownership has changed throughout the decades, this facility has served as a fixture for American manufacturing for more than 80 years.

As leaders discuss ways to jump start the manufacturing economy, it’s important to look to the companies who are sustaining the industry today. This is why back in August, Mayor Lee Brand, standing with local lawmakers and community leaders, joined MCF representatives as they turned dirt to mark the official groundbreaking for their future 100,000 square-foot facility located at 2922 E. Jensen Avenue in southeast Fresno.

Jim Gray, vice president and plant manager of MCF, began his career over 40 years ago at the California Avenue facility when it was home to United States Steel Corporation’s American Bridge Division. Then, the facility was contributing to projects such as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, producing thousands of pipeline clevises as well as pressure vessels that supported the 800 mile system. Forty years later, Gray would receive a notice regarding another consequential infrastructure project, California’s High-Speed Rail, but this time to get out of the way.

“At first we asked, is this really going to happen? I shrugged it off until the notices started to get heavier and heavier and then it seemed real,” Gray said. As reality set in and negotiations ensued, MCF confronted the intricacies of how to relocate an industrial operation of this size, not to mention the decades old heavy machinery and equipment. With the help of his eminent domain attorney (California Eminent Domain Law Group), independent relocation consultants (NohBell Group), the high-speed rail authority’s right-of-way acquisition and relocation agents, and the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a settlement was reached and MCF was able to begin planning for their future.

First they needed a location, but the site selection did not come easy. Due to their unique requirements, the inventory of available land in the City of Fresno was limited. According to the real estate information company CoStar, over the last several years, Fresno’s industrial vacancy rate has experienced a steep decline from 10 percent to 3.5 percent in part due to increased building activity, a strengthening economy, and the building demand borne by high-speed rail relocated businesses. In short, there weren’t many options to stay in Fresno. Therefore, MCF evaluated several out-of-town locations, including Las Vegas, to determine the most cost effective and feasible location to suit their relocation and expansion.

Despite the limited inventory, the Fresno County EDC was able to coordinate with the industrial broker community and several Fresno County cities to assemble a handful of properties that could provide MCF the land canvass necessary to develop and construct their facility.

As they evaluated their options, several factors were taken into consideration, including requisite site dimensions, permitting timelines, business incentives, energy costs, water and sewer infrastructure, and logistics. After considering all available options, MCF returned their focus to the City of Fresno, where their employees make their home, and identified a site that met their requirements and could accommodate their future growth.

While working with the City of Fresno, Gray credits the cooperation among multiple departments, especially the city’s planning department, who has personnel designated solely to high-speed rail related projects. Gray added, “It made doing business with the city great. We felt good about the coordination and felt the system moved much faster than any other submittal process we’ve experienced before.”

To ensure the retention of the business, the city extended an incentive package which included fee waivers (such as iDIFER) and expedited permitting. As they considered out-of-state options, Pacific Gas & Eleectric Co. awarded MCF with the Economic Development Rate, affording a 30 percent reduction in electricity costs over five years. Therefore, due to the coordinated effort among multiple partner agencies, their decision to stay in Fresno was settled.

As the nation’s largest tank manufacturer, MCF enlisted the help of the nation’s leader in metal building construction, Madera-based SPAN Construction, to design and build the state-of-the-art facility. Working with other local firms such as Precision Engineering, they reoriented their facility plans to include a more efficient, straight-line manufacturing design that will increase operational productivity and provide a competitive edge within their industry.

Although MCF will soon leave behind a manufacturing facility with a proud century-long legacy, Gray is excited and optimistic about the future, noting that their new home “will support the next generation of skilled welders and fabricators for another 100 years.”

If your company is planning to expand, please contact Will Oliver, director of business services with the Fresno EDC, at 559-476-2500 to discuss available incentives and resources.