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If you drive to Downtown Fresno, you can’t help but notice the Pacific Southwest Building, a historic landmark on Fulton Street. The stately, 16-story high rise was built in 1925 as a bank and office building. It has seen many changes over the years, and nearly a century after it opened, it has loft living, workspaces, and a restaurant.
The Fresno County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) recently took over the building’s fourth floor. The non-profit organization has 20 employees and continues to grow its operations, working to entice businesses to set up shop in Fresno County and creating partnerships to help residents become gainfully employed. Before the EDC’s big move to the Pacific Southwest Building, a revamp of the 5,000 square foot space on the fourth floor was necessary to accommodate the needs of the organization.
Valley Apprenticeship Connections (VAC), a program of Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (Fresno EOC), is helping to refurbish parts of the building for new tenants. Building owner, Sevak Khatchadourian, partnered with VAC to provide a hands-on training experience for students associated with renovations. VAC is a job training program that teaches students about the construction industry. It’s also a soft skills training program that teaches lessons from the “Thinking for A Change” curriculum which is designed to make a student a better employee. The curriculum teaches lessons on many social and work interactions from how to negotiate to how to apologize. When those lessons are learned and applied, students are then connected to the Construction Industry.
VAC students, guided by licensed professionals, reconfigured the space on the fourth floor that hadn’t been occupied for years. They tore down walls, built new ones, added drywall, painted, replaced windows, and refinished the concrete flooring.Will Jackson, the Senior Training Facilitator with VAC, says the building owner also had licensed contractors coming in to do the more advanced work, and students shadowed them. “I know that business cards were given to some of our students and some of the contractors said they would be happy to serve as a job reference. Other students were asked for their contact information, so the contractors can reach out when they are hiring.”After graduation from the intense 12-week VAC course, students can expect to have the experience necessary to enter the field and go on to join a union. Will says, “Starting pay with the Laborers Union is $22, plus benefits. For example, that’s a big jump for one of our students who was making $14 per hour.”The remodel of the Pacific Southwest Building began on January 17 and wrapped up on June 16. The Fresno County EDC moved into the space in late June. Business Attraction Specialist, Tiffany Louk, says she was impressed by the renovation work. “When I walked in, the accent walls and the views blew me away. Everything was fixed up perfectly to accommodate the impactful work that we do.”Lee Ann Eager, President and CEO of Fresno County EDC, says the agency wanted a bigger space, as well as the opportunity to be part of downtown revitalization efforts and close to downtown partners. “From our partnership with the Fresno EOC Valley Apprenticeship Connections program and the Central Valley Training Center in Selma, to the establishment of a new building for training in West Fresno, the EDC has experienced growth in our programs and partnerships, necessitating additional space.”The collaboration at the Pacific Southwest Building brings together three entities with a mission to build the community. VAC Program Manager, Amalia Martinez, says, “Not only were we able to use this as a training opportunity for our students who will go on to stable, high-paying careers, it also strengthens partnerships, and restores a piece of the City’s beauty and preserves its rich history.

About Fresno EOC Valley Apprenticeship Connections (VAC)

Fresno EOC Valley Apprenticeship Connections (VAC) supports the hiring needs of our Central Valley’s construction contractors. VAC students are immersed in a free 12-week training program to prepare them for the workforce. The program includes a Monday-Friday schedule from 7am to 3pm, hands-on training at job sites, a personal journey of self-evaluation, behavioral change curriculum, soft skill attainment, daily physical education, and construction math. Trainees will also have meet-and-greet introductions with trade unions, including the Associated Builders and Contractors. In addition, random drug testing will occur twice during the training.

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