Serving the community since 1922

Wonderful planning inland rail terminal, bringing 40,000 new jobs

Guinn: Vast expansion would connect the state – and the coasts

If the Wonderful Company has its way, over the next few years Shafter will become a major hub of industry between northern and southern California – even the east and west coasts – and will provide 40,000 new jobs in a vast inland railway terminal center, expanding its current industrial park at the southern edge of town.

In an interview this week, John Guinn, manager of the project for the agriculture and industrial giant Wonderful and a former city manager who spearheaded the creation of the original park in the 1970s, detailed plans the company has to create an inland railway terminal that would be on part of 1,600 acres of land that is situated near the BNSF mainline.

Guinn said that the terminal would help move more product from coastal cities by rail, alleviating a lot of the traffic on State Route 99, one of the busiest truck routes in California. "This move would benefit the Wonderful Company, enabling us to move more product, as well as help the city of Shafter, reducing emissions on the highway, as well as producing more jobs for the residents of Shafter."

He said that just six rail cars could replace 120 tractor trailers.

Wonderful hopes to use the railroad branch now owned by the city, and last used by Baker Hughes when the oilfield operations company had a facility at the park. At a City Council meeting two weeks ago, City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said that the city was exploring the options for the railway and "to do what is in the best interest of the city."

Guinn, who was Shafter city manager for 17 years, said that a couple of decades ago, Shafter was in the position of looking to the future and making sure that the city grew, as well as producing more jobs for the community.

"We decided to invest in the future of Shafter, not knowing at the time the extent that the Wonderful Company would play in its future."

In the beginning, as the Wonderful Company brought major retailers to the area, such as Target and Ross Stores, and more recently Walmart and Amazon, there was a concern about the ability of Shafter and nearby cities to fill the jobs that were created, including high tech positions. The economic development director for the city at the time, Bob Meadows, when asked what percentage of jobs would be able to be filled by Shafter residents, said, "We really don't know, because a lot of the jobs are for highly skilled workers, some including automation positions" which the city didn't have.

Guinn estimated that of approximately 10,000 jobs now supported by operations at the industrial park, about 3,000 are held by Shafter residents.

To answer this dilemma, Wonderful Company created the Occupational Learning Center, housed inside the Wonderful Industrial Park complex, providing training for residents to gain the skills necessary to fill those positions.

Equipped with classrooms, this center teaches courses in automation, engineering, warehouse management, and other technical skills that are needed to operate the new facilities.

One such worker is Ramon Hernandez, who has been employed at the Wonderful Company Industrial Park for over four years. "I started out as a forklift driver, making $17 an hour. But I knew that the companies were moving to more automation and high tech operations. I decided to get more training, and now I am working as an automation analyst, operating machines that I didn't believe that I would ever be able to do." Hernandez now makes $27 an hour and is also prepared to fill a variety of positions that these new companies may have available.


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