(Feb. 21) Oxnard, Calif.-based Gills Onions LLC is moving into the San Joaquin Valley’s west side by acquiring a 200,000-square-foot packing and cold storage facility in the community of San Joaquin.

Renovation on the building has already begun.

“Sizing and grading operations are scheduled to begin in June,” said Neila Alamo, director of sales and marketing for Gills Onions. “Cold rooms and production facilities will be up and running by September.”

The plant will employ about 100 workers year-round, she said. Rio Farms, the growing division of Gills Onions, will hire another 60 seasonal employees to operate the sizing and grading equipment during the June-November harvest.

The building required renovation and upgrades, Alamo said, because it had been used for packing bulk onions and some other commodities.

Gills Onions has worked with contract onion growers in the San Joaquin Valley for a number of years. The company is looking to expand growing operations in the valley, Alamo said.

“The new facility is very close to where we harvest onions,” she said. “It will help us reduce the cost of hauling onions to our headquarters facility and minimize our overall impact on the environment.”

The San Joaquin packing and cold storage operation will be used primarily for industrial products, such as whole, peeled and diced onion production, and will supplement production at the company’s Oxnard plant, Alamo said.

In addition to its proximity to growers, the new plant is close to many of the canneries Gills Onions supplies, she said.

In the future, Alamo said the valley plant’s volume will match that of the Oxnard plant, permitting the company’s other packing facilities to increase service to retail and foodservice businesses.

San Joaquin is in western Fresno County, California’s top onion growing county, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. In 2006, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were more than 26,000 acres of onions in Fresno County. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the bulk of onions grown in California are for the processing market. In 2007, the state harvested 9,300 acres of fresh market onions, and 30,500 acres of storage onions, mostly grown for processors.

“We see the acquisition of the San Joaquin packing and cold storage facility as a great opportunity for expanding the business,” Alamo said.