The San Joaquin Partnership is a non-profit, private-public economic development corporation assisting business & industry to locate into San Joaquin County, California, including the Cities of Escalon, Lathrop, Lodi, Manteca, Ripon, Stockton and Tracy. Location and expansion services are provided directly to the company and/or indirectly to their site consultant or real estate brokerage
Mike Girdner, M&L Commodities owner, is thrilled he moved his business to the Port of Stockton.Business Journal photo by Elizabeth Stevens
The ice cream or meat you have in your freezer may well have first spent time in Mike Girdner’s freezer.
While your ice box may be 5 cubic feet or so, Girdner’s is 5 million cubic feet and is located at the Port of Stockton.
“It’s a hotel for food,” Girdner said of his company, M&L Commodities.
Food from 30 or so companies spends two days to six months in the cold storage terminal, which has been built with efficiency, security, safety, and environmental concerns in mind.
The warehouse has nine refrigerated rooms, cooled to the specifications of the food inside. There is also a cold dock with 20 dock doors, so refrigerated trucks can pull up and unload without exposing products to the outside heat or elements.
“A lot of (other warehouses) don’t have a cold dock,” Girdner said. “They run it out on an open dock in the air where there are pigeons and who knows what. We are the top rated among all the (warehouses in the) cold chain overweight corridor.”
Each of those rooms is built separately, but encased in the warehouse in order to allow each room to expand or contract independently as temperatures change. That way one room can be 29 degrees, while the one next to it is 20 below zero.
The entire facility is powered by natural gas fuel cells. Not only is it an efficient way to generate power, but Girdner said the air and water leftover from the process are clean.
Girdner’s relationship with the Port began about 10 years ago when he decided he wanted to build a cold storage facility near Austin Industrial Park, which he already owned near Manteca. He had a researcher do a market survey and it was suggested that he look at the Port of Stockton. Girdner said he took one look at it and realized, “This is the way to the whole world.”
There are three more phases coming with final completion expected in the third quarter of 2015. It positions M&L Commodities perfectly to take advantage of the container-on-barge shipping that is set to begin at the Port later this spring.
“(The new barge service) will make Stockton’s port into a full service activity,” said Michael Ammann of the San Joaquin Partnership, who explained it now makes it possible to sell San Joaquin County as a superior location from a logistics standpoint.
Two barges will take hundreds of containers at a time along the San Joaquin River between the Port of Stockton and the Port of Oakland, also known as the M580 corridor. The goal is to take as many as 1,200 trucks off Interstate 580 every day, reducing congestion and improving air quality.
Girdner believes the Port of Stockton is perfectly located, right in the middle of the West Coast, with Interstate 5 and state Highway 99, the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads nearby and access to an international waterway.
This is not Girdner’s first foray into logistics and exporting. He worked in his father’s cattle hide processing and exporting business growing up and about 40 years ago he came to California from his home in Boise, Idaho, to help cattle rancher Jack Harris start a similar enterprise. Girdner helped Harris build a factory and eventually Harris asked him to stay on. In the 1980s, Southwest Hide Company, owned by Girdner and his father, won the U.S. Commerce Department’s President’s E Award for exporting excellence.
“My dad taught me to work hard and be honest, and everything will work,” Girdner said. His children work with him now and his father is after him to work less. Two of his sons work at the cold storage plant and his daughter is chief financial officer for the cold storage business and his industrial park in Manteca.
Girdner believes that even with the recession of the last few years, his timing in moving to the Port of Stockton has been fortunate.
“Usually when you find a business opportunity, you get into it and there will be some bumps in the road,” Girdner said.
“Here there’s never been any bumps. It only keeps getting better.”