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Part of California Natural Products expansion

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California Natural Products and Power Automation Systems, Pat Mitchell, was on hand to see the bridge connection put in place Thursday morning. The actual placement of the two sections took less t...

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED May 17, 2013 1:55 a.m.

LATHROP — Pat Mitchell, watched intently as the first two 11 ton bridge sections were lowered into place Thursday morning to connect the production lines of California Natural Products with his six story Power Automation Systems (PAS) storage facility on the east side of McKinley Avenue.

The bridge will extend down the side of the main building and access the production area with rail tracks that will take a variety of products from the end of the production lines to the storage facility over some 600 feet of bridge. The path includes three turns.

The overall project includes four vertical lift devices to raise the pallet cars up to the various storage levels.  The bridge construction was estimated at $500,000 of the total $11 million cost.  Phase One will provide storage for some 8,000 pallets.  When Phases 2-3 and 4 are completed the capacity is expected to reach some 16,000 pallets of storage area.

Working side by side to oversee the bridge operation were project manager David Dabau and Chad DeGraff of DeGraff Development in Oakdale.

Mitchell said his privately owned company has similar operations in Mexico City, in London and in Spain.  A Pepsi plant in Raleigh North Carolina was recently named the plant of the year – the top Pepsi plant in the world – storing all its beverages on site in the storage and retrieval operation constructed by PAS.

President of the companies, the Manteca native grew up in the 300 block of East Yosemite Avenue, fondly remembers his parents, the late Dutch and Pat Mitchell.  His basketball coach at MUHS at 1968 was the much respected Joe Handy.

Mitchell’s firm currently has two storage facilities operating in Mexico City – Coke and Dannon Yogurt.  PAS has also been manufacturing the rail cars, lifts and rails in their Lathrop operation that has some 435,000 square feet under roof.  There are four mega storage units under construction around the world and another eight scheduled to break ground in the next six months.

Marketing manager Bob Bockhahn, of Ripon, noted that the two firms are currently hiring – recently adding 100 staffers to their ranks and another 10 just last week.  They are looking for additional skilled workers with a focus on mechanical and electrical engineers.

In reference to the connecting bridge and the six-story pallet storage facility on the east side of McKinley Avenue, Bob Bockhahn said, “This is going to open a whole new world for us.  We have run out of storage area for our pallets, but we’re still growing as a company.”

The cost savings of having the automated storage operation drops a several dollar cost in transporting individual pallets down to about three cents for each time the pallet is moved, Bockhahn said.  Currently only about 12 pallets can be moved in or out of the warehouse within an hour compared to 90 per hour once the new computer generated operation is on line.

As a 7-year-old boy, Mitchell opened his own fruit stand on Airport Way just before Roth Road, he recalled.  That was in 1957 when he later used a Quonset hut at the corner of McKinley Avenue and Lathrop Road to sell fruits and vegetables.  Farming has been his second vocation in life including alfalfa fields near the Libby Owens Ford glass plant along with melons.

Mitchell said contractors started moving dirt to launch the construction back in November.  It is expected to be completed and ready for storage by the end of August – a nine month project.  Phone and power lines had to be moved to make way for the bridge along with one or two limbs from a full grown tree that was in the way of the bridge routing.

Casey Razma, chief financial officer for the company, was deeply involved in the planning, budgeting and securing the needed financing for the multi-million dollar project.  The PAS operation employs about 40 workers and the production side has another 350 staffers.

Mitchell founded California Natural Products – now an Aseptic Packaging Firm – in 1980 as a research and development company producing unique food products.  The company’s growth ignited after filing 14 food processing patents.  CNP has been producing rice beverages since 1986, aseptic packaged products since 1994 and soy beverages since 1997.

The Lathrop firm’s published and practiced company values: “respect, honesty and integrity, contribution, commitment, teamwork and pride.”

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