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Technology

Salinas Start-Up Accelerator To Merge Ag and Tech

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The city known as America's salad bowl is trying to put itself at the center of an emerging ag-tech industry. 
 
Salinas has hired John Hartnett, with the investment firm SVG Partners, to launch the “Steinbeck Innovation Cluster” -- a non-profit in downtown Salinas. The point is to recruit money and talent from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley, home to an $8 billion agriculture industry.
 
Hartnett hopes local companies like Taylor Farms, Driscoll's and Ocean Mist Farms get to see how new technologies, like sensors and drones, can help change irrigation.
 
"Universities and entrepreneurs are creating technology that they want to push in the business," Hartnett says. "But if it’s not pulled by the major multibillion-dollar companies that are growing and producing food, it’s not going to happen. So, really, it’s taking what’s happening in the labs and putting it into the fields."
 
While the national unemployment rate has hovered around 8 percent in the last year, it's been as high as 20 percent in Salinas. Mayor Joe Gunter says new computer classes that are part of this initiative are exposing his residents to the future economy.

"You walk into these classes with 25 or 30 young people,” Gunter says. “(At) 6, 7 years old, attention spans always not the best. You can hear a pin drop.
 
"They are into what they're learning. And they're teaching their parents."
 
The accelerator for ag-tech projects is taking applications, and is scheduled to launch in the fall.
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