Jim White on Salinas pre-cooling project, opportunity zone investing
Jim White of Post Harvest Technologies and Growers Ice Co. talks with The Packer's Northeast editor Amy Sowder. ( Amy Sowder )

From terminal markets to warehouses and coolers, facilities that are long overdue for an update could have financial incentives to do it if located in one of 8,800 locations across the U.S.

Jim White is taking advantage of his location in one of those qualified opportunity zones to redevelop his 28-acre Growers Ice Co. pre-cooling and cold-storage campus in Salinas Valley.

White is chairman and CEO of Post Harvest Technologies and Growers Ice Company, founder and CEO of PHT Opportunity Fund. His newest book, “Opportunity Investing: How to Revitalize Urban and Rural Communities with Opportunity Funds,” launched March 31.

“It’s tired, like a lot of facilities in Salinas Valley and around the nation built 50, 60, 70 years ago,” White said. “Of course, food safety is a big deal for all of us, and there are different rules and regulations, and we like to be out ahead of that; we don’t like the government to come in and say ‘you should be doing this,’ even though it’s good. So, we like to be ahead of the curve.”

Pre-cooling after harvest quickly zaps the heat from fresh produce to prevent the growth of microbes that cause decay and extend shelf life.

The post-harvest facility serves companies such as Terra Farms, Earthbound Farms, Mann Packing and Dole, he said.

The redevelopment plans took shape after White read about qualified opportunity zones created in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The program is meant to spur long-term private sector investments in low-income rural and urban communities nationwide, White said.

Investors can benefit from the capital gains tax breaks, make money and positively impact low-income urban and rural communities and the lives of millions of people, he said.

Yet White found the details confusing and data missing, so he wrote a book to explain how growers and shippers, among other industries, can benefit from being in one of these zones.

White created a map for business leaders to see if their facility might qualify.

As for the plans for his Growers Ice facilities, the plan is to create energy-reducing and recycling technologies and strategies throughout the site.

Water will be recirculated in refrigeration condenser towers and industrial waste treatment systems to use grey and storm water for landscaping the large, shaded areas that will help control outside ambient temperature, said Russell Gheen, general manager of Growers Ice Co.

“Water reclamation and reuse will be critical as we consider regional and global issues like climate change and prolonged drought,” Gheen said.

To reduce costs and energy usage, Gheen said they will recycle wasted heat energy to supply refrigeration to the cold rooms.

Solar panel batteries will capture excess energy to use during peak power consumption. CO2 and glycol chillers will reduce the use of anhydrous ammonia as a refrigerant.

An automated energy-management computer will control these features, Gheen said.

It’s expected that any new builds will use sustainable and recycled materials in construction and feature high efficiency HVAC systems and LED lighting, he said.

These are high-tech features that agricultural and other projects throughout opportunity zones nationwide can employ to reduce waste,” Gheen said. “All of it leads to a better bottom line and a better environment within and around the opportunity zone.”

Labor and energy are the two biggest expenses for this kind of business, White said, so the plans will use technology to reduce the cost of both while improving the community.

“In the new design, they’re looking at how they can augment food safety and automation and then how we can bring employees in and how we can help upgrade their skills to help increase salaries, wages and benefits associated with it,” White said. “It’s really important to me to invest in the community.”

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