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Valley Strong wraps up credit union merger; Bitwise launches investment firm

Porterville Branch

Bakersfield-based Valley Strong Credit Union has opened a new branch at 745 N. Newcomb St. in Porterville.

A financial institution based in Stockton has officially been folded into Valley Strong Credit Union following full regulatory approval and a vote of consent by most members at the incoming organization.

Financial Center Credit Union, founded in 1954, brings about 30,000 members to Bakersfield-based Valley Strong, where they make up about 14 percent of the total membership. The union also expanded Valley Strong's assets by $635 million, or approximately 26 percent, while adding six branches in Lodi, Manteca and Stockton.

"Former members of FCCU will benefit from Valley Strong’s enhanced top-of-the-line products, competitive rates, digital banking options and 30,000 co-op ATMs," Valley Strong said in a news release Monday announcing the formal merging of the two credit unions.

Fresno-based tech hub Bitwise Industries has started an investment firm, BW Capital, and launched an initial fund with investors including Bank of America and the Central Valley Community Foundation.

The fund is intended to direct investment to underserved entrepreneurs in the Central Valley whose ventures can be guided to an initial public offering or acquisition.

“We want to support companies not located in major tech hubs,” Bitwise Capital general partner Trevor Thomas-Uribe said in a news release. He added the firm seeks "the kinds of companies that are underrepresented in most venture capital portfolios, yet have the drive and talent to create innovative products."

A Bakersfield woman has been appointed Central California regional adviser at the California Office of the Small Business Advocate.

Linda Quiñones-Vaughan worked at State Farm Insurance from 2003 to 2021, holding positions including claims representative and agency marketing/communication representative. Prior to that, she was executive director of administrative services and external relations for the Kern Community College District from 2000 to 2003. She earned a master's degree at Cal State Bakersfield.

Housed within the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, the Office of the Small Business Advocate promotes economic growth and innovation while connecting small businesses and startups with information and support for navigating government and regulations.

More than 50 scholarships will be given out to local students Wednesday at the annual Kern County Agricultural Awards Banquet.

A total of $53,000 will be awarded to local high school and college students pursuing a major related to agriculture.

The 6 p.m. event will take place at the Kern Agricultural Pavilion, 3300 East Belle Terrace.

For 30 years, with the exception of the last two, the event has recognized the academic and extra-curricular achievements of young people planning to work in ag. The banquet is sponsored by the Kern County Ag Foundation.

Event emcee Bianca Ramirez, the foundation's president, can be reached at