Distribution center booming

QCS photo: Steven Hansen

Carolyn Birch of Tucumcari wheels boxes into place for loading.

Blueberries, corn, mangoes, bananas and other fruits and vegetables bound for destinations in the Midwest and Southeast are stopping in Tucumcari twice a week to change trucks at a rate of 10,000 to 15,000 cases a day at the new Kodiak Produce distribution center, Plant Manager John Perry said.

The Tucumcari distribution center for Kodiak, a Phoenix-based produce distributor with about $10 million in annual revenues, is operating in earnest and has been since mid-April, Perry said.

Patrick Vanderpool, director of the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corp., said Kodiak's early activity is very gratifying. He said he continues to work with Kodiak's local and corporate managers as the facility moves on plans to expand its Tucumcari operations.

"We've been working with Kodiak since last October," Vanderpool said. He said he has worked closely with City Manager Doug Powers and the city commission, as well as with state-level economic development managers to get Kodiak in place and active in Tucumcari.

"It's a solid business," Vanderpool said of Kodiak.

QCS photo: Steven Hansen

Bud Nelson of Tucumcari inspects apricots for quality.

On May 16, a crew of about 15 workers were assembling truckloads of produce in the 27,000 square-foot workroom that Kodiak leases at 815 Whitmore Ave. Short walls of produce boxes lined one side of the warehouse and boxes of bread items lay rank-and-file in the middle as loads were assembled into pallets, wrapped in clear plastic and then fork-lifted into waiting trucks bound for Oklahoma and other midwestern and southeastern states.

Perry said Kodiak has a payroll of about 20 mostly part-time workers who unload, sort and load produce when truck shipments arrive. He is also hiring some long-distance truck drivers to deliver produce from Phoenix.

Kodiak opens the building to local residents from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. On May 25, Kodiak opened its doors for the first time, and a few local customers bought produce at reduced prices.

On the following week, June 1, however, about 150 customers descended on the produce firm, and available produce sold out in about an hour and a half, according to some Kodiak employees.

The ability to provide fresh fruits and vegetables at "reasonable" prices in an area where the quality and quantity of produce are sometimes lacking is part of what motivated the siting of the Kodiak facility in Tucumcari, Kodiak's owner Blair Hillman said. He said that consideration is always a consideration when siting a new facility to expand Kodiak. That and the fact that Tucumcari is located about a day's drive away from Kodiak's main facility in Phoenix.

Hillman said the firm's expanding Bountiful Baskets program, in which customers subscribe to parcels of Kodiak-chosen fruits and vegetables that are shipped within a week, was another reason to place a distribution center in Tucumcari.

QCS photo: Steven Hansen

Maliqui Romero of Tucucmari loads Mexican-themed produce packages for shipping.

The Tucumcari facility makes it possible to get fresher produce to more Bountiful Baskets customers in a wider area, Hillman said.

Meanwhile, Hillman is expanding his wholesale business, too, selling to grocers, institutions, restaurants and other large customers. He's trying to satisfy a recently growing demand for organically grown and locally grown produce, too, he said, but he's careful to add that local means different distances from customers in different places. For instance, "locally grown" in some California locations could mean grown in Oregon or Washington.

Meanwhile, Perry and Vanderpool say that more jobs — and more full-time positions — are likely to open as the Tucumcari operation grows.

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