Netafim International Group weighed various options before selecting Fresno, Calif., for its first irrigation tubing plant outside Israel. Requirements of San Joaquin Valley's agricultural market tipped the scale in Fresno's favor. Now, the firm's Netafim USA division is nearing capacity in an 80,000-square-foot plant and, within a year or so, may construct a $1.8 million addition, said Sheila Delany, the division's marketing director.
Current development occupies 81/2 acres of the 11-acre site, she said in a telephone interview.
The plant extrudes linear low density polyethylene in various tubing diameters and thickness. Emitters are welded into tubing as needed.
During 1999, the division invested $1.5 million for more state-of-the-art extrusion equipment and tooling. Most is made with European components and assembled in Israel. Also, the operation leased an additional 10,000 square feet for off-site storage.
Employment of 150 represents a 58 percent increase during three years.
"We are currently hiring additional production and warehouse employees," she said.
Netafim entered the United States market in 1981 and imported tubing from Israel until production began in Dinuba, Calif., in 1992. The Fresno plant opened in 1996.
The plant makes drip irrigation products and complete irrigation systems for landscaping, greenhouse and nursery, mining, forestry and waste-water markets, in addition to agriculture.
Netafim USA, the firm's largest division, distributes output from Fresno throughout the United States and Canada, and handles Eastern regions through a warehouse in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Occasionally, Netafim USA ships product to Mexico or South America if the parent firm's other operations cannot meet delivery requirements.
The Fresno operation uses rail service to receive resin deliveries and ship some products. The valley is "a good location for agriculture," Delany said.
"We think Fresno will continue to be at the heart of the markets we serve."
Netafim used the Fresno plant as a prototype in its beginning manufacturing operations in Australia in 1997 and South Africa in 1999.
University research programs on efficient uses of water and closed-loop systems help Netafim and other irrigation-system makers such as Fresno Valves and Castings Inc. of Selma and Wade Rain of Fresno.
California State University at Fresno operates a Center for Irrigation Technology. Other efforts include those at the California Polytechnic Institute at San Luis Obispo and the Davis campus of the University of California.
Privately held Netafim International of Hanegev, Israel, does not disclose sales figures.