A Single Stan State Degree Fueled the Founding of a Major Regional Business

Sierra Pacific Warehouse GroupSierra Pacific Warehouse Group founder Mike McNulty, chief financial officer Michelle Van Artsdalen and current company CEO and president Chris Murphy all are Stan State graduates.

With more than 130 employees and roughly 1.5 million square feet of space within a 40-mile radius of its Modesto headquarters, Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group (SPWG) is a major presence in the West Coast’s distribution, logistics, trucking and cold storage industries.

And without the presence of Stanislaus State, the company never would have been founded.

The story of SPWG starts in the early 1960s when Mike McNulty, a manager of a Modesto cold storage warehouse, was told by the New York-based owners that in order to be promoted in the company he would have to earn a four-year college degree.

He had attended Modesto Junior College, but there were very few options open to him for earning a four-year degree. With a young family, he wouldn’t be able to quit his job, so he had to find somewhere that would allow him to slowly earn his degree through night courses.

“I don’t think I would have been able to pull-off going to Sacramento State, with the travel, so if Stan State hadn’t opened I didn’t know how I ever would have been able to figure out how to get my degree,” McNulty said. “All of this never would have happened.”

His choices of majors were limited. McNulty wanted to study biological science, but the young Stanislaus State College didn’t offer lab courses at night. As McNulty remembers his choices were history or English, “and English wasn’t for me,” he said.

It took 10 years, but McNulty earned his degree, and his company made true on its word, eventually promoting him to regional vice president. The promotion was great, he recalled, but the job required a lot of time away from home. But with his foot firmly planted in upper management of the warehouse and logistics business — again thanks to having earned his degree — he was able to strike a partnership with local company Patterson Frozen Foods to provide both dry and cold warehouse space.

It was the start of what became SPWG, which now is in the hands of company CEO and President Chris Murphy, a Stan State graduate and McNulty’s son-in-law. Michelle Van Artsdalen, the company’s chief financial officer, also is a Stan State grad.

“The ability to leverage his talent with his degree allowed him to become the entrepreneur and to start this company,” Murphy said. “His teachers left a mark on him, and many of those same teachers left a mark on me.”

There are dozens of stories in our region about how the presence of Stan State was the catalyst for the founding and eventual success of a local business, and those stories serve to underscore the symbiotic relationship between any region and its university. Murphy, echoing the sentiments of Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn, would like to see that relationship continue to grow and prosper.

“This is such an undersold relationship,” Murphy said. “We need to treat Stan State like our very own four-year school because people don’t realize the impact it’s had in the community. People who come here to study at Stanislaus are more prone to explore what we have here, which gives them a better chance to stay here after graduation.

“How do we stop the brain-drain of the kids who go off to school and never come back? How do we convince kids that Stan State, this bang-for-the-buck university, is a treasure? You have to look at what it does. It transforms people.”

In the case of Mike McNulty and Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group, a Stan State degree transformed not only his life, but continues to impact the generations that followed him, as well as the region’s warehouse and logistics industries.

“It took me 10 years to finally get my Stan State degree, and my wife was supportive all the way,” McNulty said. “She typed all my papers and if it wasn’t for her I would not have graduated. It was a struggle … and it was all worth it.”