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China, ‘Marine Highway’ could bring us prosperity

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Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2012 12:00 am

"Dan and Toni at Express Type and Graphics over on Spaans Drive would be very happy to help you design and print that." Promoting the local economy often is as simple as encouraging friends to patronize their local businesses.

Other times the best way to promote the local economy is for me to jump on a plane and fly to Shanghai. Two approaches, same goal: Retain and create more local jobs.

Last Saturday I met with my good buddy Mike Bowden from Savage Services and another friend of mine who represents a very large Chinese state-owned company interested in importing food products such as dairy, walnuts and wine from California. While we were touring the Port of Stockton, we discussed the new M580/I80 Marine Highway. "Do you see that beautiful Delta? That water is the window to the world," Mike said.

Mike then showed us two brand-new 140-ton mobile harbor cranes and a not-so-new but highly functional barge capable of handling up to 9,000 tons of cargo. Mike was touring us on his day off as a personal favor to me.

Mike likes to humbly describe himself as someone who just "plays with boats, trucks and trains." A better description would be calling him a one-man chamber of commerce. Mike knows all the players in the sandbox. More importantly, he knows how to "put the pieces together," as he so often says to me. He is one of the major forces of nature that worked quietly behind the scenes to make the M580/I80 Marine Highway Project happen. The "Marine Highway" allows for ocean containers to be loaded at the Port of Stockton, and then be floated down to the Port of Oakland. When you add the rail service, it creates an 8,000-mile overweight corridor between Asia and Chicago, since California road weight limits become irrelevant. A $13 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and some additional money from state clean air officials helped turn the long-discussed Marine Highway into a reality. According to San Francisco-based logistics expert Jon Gianini, with W.J. Byrnes & Co., "... even $50 million couldn't solve the problems Mike has conquered. He has a unique ability to get people with diverse interests to be excited about cooperating with each other."

Based in part on Mike's suggestion, this Sept. I will be going to China for the seventh time. What does touring the Port of Stockton and going to China have to do with my new job at the Galt District Chamber of Commerce? Thank you, I thought you would never ask.

California is the nation's leader in agriculture, and has been for over 50 years. In 2010, the BIC (Brazil, India, and China) combined share of the economic output in the world economy surpassed that of the United States. For good or for bad, 70 percent of the world's purchasing power is now located outside our nation's borders. Exported goods and services create jobs, jobs that pay higher than average. One study finds that for every $1 billion in new exports, there are 5,400 U.S. jobs created. Our region needs good jobs, and the world needs good food. To steal a quote from one of my top mentors, Lodi Chamber's CEO Pat Patrick, "We live in the middle of the most delicious place on earth."

California's future is very bright, if we take care of our agriculture. Problem is, that is a very big "if." My recent column on Dr. Pyke's Western Delta Intakes Concept was chosen as "commentary of the week" by aquafornia.com. Governor Brown should read it with an open mind before he unnecessarily destroys thousands of acres of prime Delta farmland.

How about the dairy industry? Regulated milk prices and unregulated feed prices is not a recipe for success. Michael Marsh, CEO of The Western United Dairymen, told me that he estimates farmers get an average of $1.34 per gallon of milk, milk that costs them $1.56 to make. Yikes.

While it is true there are big problems out there, I remain very optimistic for Galt's future. Mayor Barbara Payne feels that any comprehensive regional economic development plan that is going to help Galt should include a plan to increase the exportation of more value-added dairy products. I totally agree. Mayor Payne is rightfully proud that Galt is the state headquarters for Future Farmers of America and that Galt High School's agriculture teacher Dane White was just named "Best Outstanding Young Teacher in California."

As I toured the Port last Saturday, I realized we just need someone to help the mayor "put the pieces together."

Frank Gayaldo can be reached at gayaldofarms@aol.com or 209-327-0759.

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