Turlock workers happy to have role in Blue Diamond venture

mrowland@modbee.comJune 18, 2013 

Elias Funez/efunez@modbee.com Blue Diamond board members and officials cut off the lower portion of a large blue ribbon draped over the front entrance of the almond processor's newest facility located in Turlock Tuesday morning (06-18-13).

ELIAS FUNEZ — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

    alternate textMarijke Rowland
    Title: Arts & Entertainment Writer
    Coverage areas: Fine arts, pop culture and other entertainment throughout the Central Valley and foothills.
    Bio: Marijke Rowland has been a reporter at The Bee for 15 years. She grew up in the Midwest and has a degree in journalism from Indiana University. She has covered several beats at The Bee from education to entertainment to employment.
    Recent stories written by Marijke
    On Twitter: @marijkerowland
    E-mail: mrowland@modbee.com

— Many of the 50 employees at the new Blue Diamond plant left behind jobs, commutes and big-name companies for a chance to work in Turlock.

But almost all said it was worth it to join the venture on the ground floor.

"I really wanted to be part of a startup," said Merced resident Joel Haro, who works in receiving. "And so far, it has been amazing. Things keep getting better and they take our ideas to help — it's great."

Haro left a job at Frito-Lay in Modesto to go to Blue Diamond. Other workers left high-profile businesses such as Tesla and Foster Farms. The plant, which began limited production in May, has hired about half of the staff it needs to ramp upto full production by the end of the year.

More than 4,000 people have applied to work at the facility, which at the end of its 10-year planned build-out should have about 300 workers.

The plant manager, Ulli Thiersch, said he has been impressed by the quality and skills he has seen in the work force.

"The people we've hired are fabulous, absolutely fabulous," Thiersch said. "They're working well with the equipment. We've had a wonderful applicant pool because of the food manufacturing base in this region."

Hiring began in February. An additional 40 to 50 positions will be hired by the end of the year, mostly in operations. Qualified candidates need two to four years of manufacturing machine experience.

Modesto resident Johanna Contreras used to work at a DNA laboratory in Pleasanton. But the job required that she get up at 3 a.m. and endure a two-hour commute. Now she is at work in minutes.

"Most of the time, you can't find local jobs like this," said Contreras, who works in quality control. "You either have to commute or take a major pay cut."

While the plant can't necessarily match most Bay Area wages, some workers said the quality of life enabled by not being on the road for hours is better.

Denair resident Amanda Shaug ditched her long commute to Tracy, where she worked in quality control at a meat plant.

She said she had wanted to work for Blue Diamond since she heard the plant was coming to Turlock. Hired two weeks ago, Shaug said the application process was lengthy but worth it.

All hiring begins at the site www.bluediamondturlock.com with an online application. Then there's a pre-assessment test, a phone interview, three in-person interviews, a drug screening and a background check.

"It's a long process, but it's good," she said. "They know who they want and they want the right people for the right jobs. It's great to work for great people."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.

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