Business and political leaders in the East Bay – the region that lies east of the San Francisco Bay and encompasses a number of towns including Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville and Richmond – are working to make this region “the Silicon Valley of the green economy.” Buoyed by alternative fuels research and other clean-tech advances coming out of UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and by the work of Van Jones and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland in advancing green collar job opportunities, the area is starting to grow into that moniker. And tucked away behind the Chevron refinery in Richmond sits Ford Point, a massive former Ford manufacturing plant that now houses two of the East Bay’s thriving green businesses: SunPower and Vetrazzo.
The acclaimed architect Albert Kahn, who pioneered window-rich building designs in an effort to infuse manufacturing facilities with natural light, designed Ford Point. It opened in 1931 as Ford’s west coast Model-A production plant. The facility had a number of other uses – including manufacturing military vehicles during World War II – until it closed in 1956. It sat dormant for decades, a relic of America’s domestic manufacturing legacy, until 2004 when Orton Development purchased the 517,000 square-foot behemoth, that sits on 26.5 acres.
Transforming the old auto plant into a green manufacturing facility required extensive clean-up and fortification, but the result is an impressive building that symbolizes a sea change in terms of the type of products being churned out within its walls.
Vetrazzo moved its manufacturing plant and headquarters into Ford Point in 2006. The company collects glass from municipal recycling streams, building demolition sites and glassware manufacturers and transforms it into glass-and-concrete surfaces for countertops.
Though the company was founded back in 1996 by a Berkeley researcher looking for a creative reuse for glass, it has grown quickly in the last few years. The first countertop Vetrazzo made at Fort Point was for Ed Begley, Jr.’s television show “Living with Ed.” After Begley sang Vetrazzo’s praises on an appearance on the Tonight Show, demand for the countertops, which contain 85 percent glass, 5 percent cement and 10 percent other binders, skyrocketed and hasn’t waned much since.
SunPower’s story is perhaps more well-known to 3P readers. We’ve covered what its CTO Dr. Richard Swanson sees on the horizon for PV and his company’s role in the industry. And we’ve tracked SunPower’s phenomenal growth and the odd treatment that Wall Street has given its stock (along with other solar stocks).
SunPower manufactures a number of its products at Ford Point, including its solar roof tiles and its tracker panels, which move to follow the sun’s overhead path throughout the course of a day, thereby maximizing solar collection.
While the products coming out of Ford Point couldn’t be more different than the Model As of the 1930s, Henry Ford would likely approve of their ingenuity.