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Auburn vitamin maker heads to Texas

Ameri-Kal cites community indifference as factor
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Vitamin maker Ameri-Kal has relocated the bulk of its operations from Auburn's city-owned industrial park to Texas. But the move “ which has created about 30 jobs in the communities of Wichita Falls and Iowa Park “ has left a bitter aftertaste. Ron Soejoto, Ameri-Kal chief operating officer, said the welcome the business has received in the Lone Star State is in stark contrast to the cold shoulder it was getting in Auburn as it tried to find ways to stay and expand. Auburn city and business leaders say the move could have more to do with existing financial conditions and other factors that might make sense to the vitamin maker. Soejoto said Ameri-Kal had 49 employees working at its Wilbur Way headquarters in North Auburn at its peak. Its main business is manufacturing vitamins that go out under other companies' labels. The business was established in Auburn in the late 1980s and moved into its new building in the mid-1990s. The move to Texas followed the sale of the 34,000-square-foot Ameri-Kal building early last year, Soejoto said. The centralized Texas location provides a quicker route for products to eastern U.S. customers while the two communities Ameri-Kal has located in have provided incentives to locate there, he said. It was time for us to move on, Soejoto said. We kind of got lost in the mix of things, where nobody cared if we were there or not. Auburn Mayor Keith Nesbitt said that the Ameri-Kal move shouldn't reflect poorly on the city. Sometimes corporate decisions are made regardless of what you're doing, Nesbitt said. The city's doing everything it can to make things attractive. That effort includes low-interest loans and a task-force approach to bringing in new companies, he said. Bill Radakovitz, chairman of the Auburn Chamber of Commerce joint government relations economic development subcommittee, said it's a difficult time for business and decisions are being made in that type of climate. He noted that the economic development subcommittee hasn't done a lot with airport development and job retention, so he wasn't in a position to say why Ameri-Kal left. I'm not sure what the reasons are for vacancies but I suspect the state of the economy has had an impact in general on the businesses, Radakovitz said. In Texas, Ameri-Kal is leasing a 23,000-square-foot building and adding another 10,000 square feet of space. The business is also negotiating for land to build a 50,000-square-foot distribution facility, Soejoto said. Ameri-Kal had some financial problems earlier this decade, he said. But we survived and paid all our bills, Soejoto said. After that we didn't get very much support. In Texas, they just opened their arms to us. The business started looking for a new location after the building was sold, he said. The Auburn building borders the 150,000-square-foot Mountain Peoples Warehouse structure and 256,000-square-foot former Coherent campus. Both are also empty. Rob Mora, agent for TRI Commercial of Roseville, said the former Ameri-Kal building is available for lease and was also recently put on the market for sale. A tenant that was interested in occupying the space after the initial sale had backed out. The owner, a Roseville attorney, is willing to divide the building into smaller units, Mora said. Bruce Cosgrove, Auburn Chamber of Commerce executive director, said that in the case of Coherent, the community hated to lose an employer that had nearly 500 people working at the site during the 1990s. But we had no control over that decision, he said, noting that Coherent made the move to outsourcing and offshore plants. Cosgrove said that the departures have created an opportunity at a location bordering the airport runway that has been a huge investment for the city and turned into a valuable asset. Radakovitz agreed, seeing the area people want to move to continuing to hold potential for both development and jobs. Now ensconced in Texas, with a smaller presence working out of home offices in the Auburn area to retain West Coast ties, Ameri-Kal is moving forward with renewed optimism in a new location. When we moved to Auburn in 1987, there was a big welcome but as we continued on in years, we were forgotten, Soejoto said. The Journal's Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment at auburnjournal.com.