Kern County received what may have been the ideal corporate endorsement Friday as Caterpillar Inc. -- no small player in the farms and mining operations of the Central Valley -- dedicated a 46-acre, $50 million parts distribution center near the foot of the Grapevine.
Taking a page from Kern's own economic development strategy, company managers praised the responsiveness of county government, the reliability of the local workforce and, perhaps best of all, Tejon Ranch's strategic, central location for western U.S. distribution work.
Meanwhile, local, state and federal officials reciprocated in a well-attended mid-day ceremony by putting Caterpillar in an almost mythical light, lauding its product quality and wisdom for choosing to build the warehouse in Kern.
One of several politicians on hand, Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, told Friday's audience that her husband, a nearby farmer and rancher, had never really appreciated her line of work until he heard she was going to present Caterpillar with an official state certificate of recognition.
"Finally you've accomplished something," Fuller recalled her husband saying.
Said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, "When Caterpillar sales grow, that means the nation is growing."
The 400,000-square-foot distribution warehouse accepted its first product delivery in August and sent out its first shipment in October. It employs about 150 people, some of whom work for an outside employment agency.
The project is part of Caterpillar's plans for a $2 billion global upgrade of its parts and distribution network over the next few years.
Late last year the company closed smaller distribution centers in Hayward and Ontario, replacing them with the new facility near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 99. The company said its new California Distribution Center will stock about 6 percent more part numbers than the two closed warehouses combined were capable of stocking.
The warehouse serves dealers across California, Arizona, Nevada and parts of Mexico.
Attracting Caterpillar was a landmark success for Tejon Ranch Co., the Lebec-based agribusiness and real estate development company whose surrounding Tejon Ranch Commerce Center boasts tenants such as Ikea, Famous Footwear and Dollar General.
Tejon's president and CEO, Bob Stine, said more than 1,500 people already work at the center "and there is more to come."
The building itself is but the latest state-of-the-art distribution center to be built in Kern County.
It features a computer lab for training employees, 11 truck docks and a 25-ton hoist for unloading large engines and other equipment from delivery truck beds. Company officials pointed out that it has room next door for an additional 350,000 square feet of warehouse space, plus up to 100,000 square feet for outdoor storage.
Near the end of Friday's dedication ceremony, Caterpillar Vice President Steve Larson spoke straight to the bottom line.
"You dealers, let's start selling some parts. We've got a lot of them over there in the corner," he said to laughs.