Solano EDC luncheon highlights upcoming arrival of Gotham GreensMarch 26 2021
Indoor agricultural business opening new greenhouse in Solano County this year
PUBLISHED: March 25, 2021 at 3:49 p.m. | UPDATED: March 25, 2021 at 3:49 p.m.
The past year may have had a drastic impact on the economy, but Solano County has plenty of exciting opportunities on the horizon.
That was the gist of Thursday’s Solano Economic Development Corporation’s annual luncheon. For years, the luncheon has brought Solano County elected officials and economic development representatives together to provide highlights from the past year and share visions for the future. This year, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the luncheon had to be held virtually through a platform called Revo, which not only allowed presented to speak but also created virtual “tables” to allow for networking and recreate the feeling of being in a hotel dining hall.
The format of the event was not the only thing COVID-19 impacted, as Solano EDC President and CEO Bob Burris said it also impacted the county’s economy. He said the county lost about half of its workforce, with storefront retail and food services taking the biggest hits, since the pandemic began in March. Over the past year, he said about 12,000 of the 24,000 jobs lost had been restored, although there is a cap until the county reaches herd immunity.
However, Burris said Solano EDC learned a lot over the past year, including how to become more resilient and adaptable.
“We need to learn that businesses using technology like this one, it’s no longer Space Age,” he said. “It’s a necessity … We need to be able to train a lot of small businesses, restaurants and other businesses how to engage in digital platforms.”
Despite the hardships, Burris said the state of Solano EDC was “very strong.”
“All of our revenues are intact,” he said. “Our cities and counties and our institutional partners are fully behind us, and we’re at a hundred percent of our revenues.”
Burris also said Solano EDC worked with the county during the U.S. Census to reach people who otherwise might not have responded to the Census. Solano ended up ranking ninth out of 58 counties in terms of response, placing it well above its ranking in 2010.
The luncheon was also a showcase for one of the newest large businesses coming to Solano County: Gotham Greens, a New York-based indoor agricultural company specializing in leafy green products which is constructing a 10-acre greenhouse on the outskirts of Dixon near the University of California, Davis. It is the company’s first venture into West Coast production.
Viraj Puri, the co-founder and CEO of Gotham Greens, said it was an exciting opportunity to bring the company to Northern California. It already has three greenhouses in New York City, two in Chicago and one each in Rhode Island, Maryland and Colorado, and the newest facility will allow for expansion into one of the largest agricultural regions in the United States.
“Gotham Greens really felt like it was important to locate in California so that we could help play a role in the produce industry and help collaborate on research and innovation, specifically within the University of California system, advancing this technology, workforce development and the overall profitability of indoor agriculture.”
Gotham Greens products are sustainably grown and include lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, salad mixes, dressings and even sauces such as pesto and chimchurri. Puri said the Gotham Greens differs from other companies by producing its products year round with “a fraction of the resources compared to some of the incumbent forms of farming.” He said the company uses about 95 percent less water and 97 percent less land than conventional farming.
“We do feel that it is incumbent upon many of us to start to innovate and find new ways to produce food for an ever-growing population, using less land, less water, fewer carbon emissions and less water pollution,” he said. “We do believe indoor greenhouses are one way to address that.”
Puri also said Gotham Greens can allow for a more local supply chain. He said approximately 98 percent of lettuce in the U.S. is grown in either Salinas or Yuma, Arizona and can take between seven to 10 days to reach certain retailers. By establishing greenhouses in other regions, he said fresher products can be made available to consumers in a more timely manner.
“It reduces transportation, the need for refrigerated trucking, storage and food miles, which is maybe not a big issue on the West Coast but certainly is on the East Coast and other parts of the United States,” he said.
Additionally, Puri said the Gotham greenhouse would be powered by 100 percent renewable energy, not use any pesticides and would provide jobs ranging from plant science to handling to sales and marketing.
As for why Solano County was chosen as a location for Gotham Greens, Puri said it was because of its close proximity to UC Davis and to allow staff to learn from the nearby agricultural industry.
“This location is highly unique, as it’s gonna enable us to partner with the university, get the best and brightest talent (from) graduates of the university, partner with other stakeholders and hopefully serve as a catalyst to attract other agriculture technology businesses,” he said.
Puri hopes for a grand opening later this year.