Salinas Positioning Itself as Hub of an Ag Tech Boom

Jul 16, 2015

Salinas produce on display during the Forbes Reinventing America AgTech Summit.
Credit Krista Almanzan

The new Taylor Farms headquarters in downtown Salinas. Next to it, a temporary tent hosted the Forbes AgTech Summit.
Credit Krista Almanzan

The new Taylor Farms building anchors downtown Salinas.  It’s a company built on three generations of farming,  a fixture in the Salinas Valley, but perhaps  just as important to the future of this region is what happed in the temporary tent set up just out front late last week.  It’s enormous.  The type of tent you’d find at an outdoor wedding.

“The wedding analogy is appropriate because what we have today is a coming together,” says Paul Noglos of Forbes.  He’s the executive producer of this Forbes Reinventing America AgTech Summit, a gathering of farmers, entrepreneurs and investors.  “We have a coming together of two valleys.  The Salinas Valley and Silicon Valley.”

This union comes after years of courtship.   And no one knows that better than John Hartnett of SVG Partners, an investment firm that the City of Salinas hired a few years ago to help connect the two regions around the growing industry of ag tech.  He says the timing was right.

“If you look at investment in this area. Last year, in 2014, there was $2.5-billion invested in ag tech.  The  previous year was like, $.9-billion, and this year is predicted to be $4.2-billion of investment.” says Hartnett.

But to get in on that, Hartnett says entrepreneurs need to be where the farmers are.  “The next big thing isn’t going to happen in Palo Alto in ag tech if you are not talking to the main experts being the agriculture leaders, growers and farmers,” says Hartnett.

He means understanding the needs of people like Bruce Taylor the CEO of Taylor Farms – the company with the new building downtown.    It produces bagged salads and fresh cut vegetables.  He says the industry is looking for all sorts of solutions from ways to reduce pesticides to dealing with the labor shortage.

“It goes from planting to processing to distribution, and so there can be thousands of new products, new ideas that will help us propel the industry forward,” says Taylor.

So in the new Taylor Farms building there will also be a new Center for Innovation and Technology which will be run by the Western Growers Association.   It will be a place where ag tech entrepreneurs can find office space, mentorship from the ag industry and potential funding.

“I don’t think Silicon Valley has any sort of monopoly on innovation,” says tech entrepreneur and angel investor Ali Partovi.  He was on the ground floor of Facebook and Dropbox, and more recently has been interested in ag tech.

“To me, the word Silicon Valley is more of a philosophy and so as far as I’m concerned, this building whether it’s here or anywhere else, you can think of it as representation of that philosophy of innovation and disruption,” says Partovi.

A philosophy from Silicon Valley that will have a permanent home in the Salinas Valley when the innovation center opens in September.