Word on the Street: computer links

Two men with Fresno ties who build rocket engines for a living have turned their expertise to something the rest of us can relate to: golf.

Ron Tanouye and Pascal Okpo recently opened GolfTEC Improvement Center in Fresno, in addition to their day jobs at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne Inc., which has contracted with NASA to build the space shuttle engine, among other jobs.

The GolfTEC franchise uses sensors and motion-evaluation computers to help golfers improve their swing.

A small harness worn on the torso and hips records golfers' movements. The moves are compared to the swings of 150 touring professionals.

Coaches help clients work on their game skills.

Okpo, a native of the Ivory Coast, came to the United States as an exchange student and attended California State University, Fresno.

Tanouye frequently visited relatives in Fresno County during his childhood. Both now live in the Valencia area.

GolfTEC is at the northeast corner of Cedar and Nees avenues. The franchise joins existing golf instruction offered at most golf courses.

The business will celebrate its grand opening, which is open to the public, beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday.

A ribbon cutting will be followed by free test runs of the equipment.

Plugging a gap

Officials of Gap Inc. have decided what to do with a portion of the 216 acres they bought from the city of Fresno in 1997 for $2.

The retailer plans a 1.9-megawatt solar system -- enough to power 350 houses -- on 5 acres. The system will help power the company's adjacent 2 million-square-foot distribution center.

The system is to be financed and operated by MMA Renewable Ventures and will generate power for 20 years through a contract with Gap. It will supply about 7.4% of the plant's electricity needs, spokeswoman Melissa Swanson said.

The system will consist of more than 5,000 panels on a track, which follows the sun to maximize efficiency. Swanson said the system is being installed on land that is otherwise undevelopable.

Holding steady

With little industrial property under development, the vacancy rate for that type of real estate is staying stable at 6% in Fresno and 8.5% in Visalia, a commercial real estate company reported.

Grubb&Ellis/Pearson Realty said demand for space under 10,000 square feet has slowed, but the recent sale of a 40,000-square-foot warehouse on 5 acres in Tulare is indicative of the heightened activity in properties ranging from 20,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet.

As a result, land prices suitable for those types of projects are escalating.

Additionally, the company said in a quarterly report, non-ag businesses are sniffing around, interested in converting cold storage and packinghouses and similar real estate into other types of uses.

"These facilities often include large high-quality buildings, suitable for conversion, at attractive prices. Some are rail served at levels that allow for demolition and reconstruction," Pearson officials said.

The perfect package

Fresno State is responding to a need spawned by consumer demand for conveniently packaged vegetables, fruit, meat and other foods.

The university is developing courses that will train people to use the latest in automated equipment and encourage development of more food processing businesses closer to where the food is harvested -- in the most productive agricultural region in the world, the San Joaquin Valley,

The courses will be offered by the Industrial Technology Department.

"Economically, this brings more employment opportunities for businesses in the Central Valley, because students now don't have to leave the Valley to be educated in this specific field," said Sandra Witte, associate dean for the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

Due to its rich and diverse landscape, California is the top agricultural producing state, and, as a result, it also is the largest food processing employer in the United States, said N. Premchand Mahalik, assistant professor in the Department of Industrial Technology.

Witte said the university already has "the cultivation and harvesting aspects on the school farm, along with the marketing of our products through the Farm Market and the development of new products through our food science program. This program completes other aspects that are crucial to the agricultural industry and fills in the pieces we were missing."