Forum looks at manufacturing in Placer County

Speakers and panels discuss issues, concerns, impacts
By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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How to nurture and grow manufacturing in Placer County took the spotlight during a recent all-day forum in Roseville. Among the conclusions: Fewer regulations and less taxation, more innovation and reinvention. And the county should focus on attracting smaller manufacturers and it should look at reconstituting the manufacturers association. Manufacturing employs more than 8,000 countywide, representing a little less than 10 percent of the economy, according to David Snyder, Placer County economic development director. “It’s not big compared to other sectors, but big in terms of contribution,” he said. “They pay higher wages and contribute a lot from the standpoint of the purchase of goods and services. It’s a bigger bang for the buck than many other industries.” At the same time, the recession’s impact on manufacturing job losses has been significant, and increased automation has also played a role in layoffs. “Statewide, it’s been literally hundreds of thousands of employees over the last decade,” he said. “In Placer County, it has been a couple of thousand, but the ratio is in line. However, you have to temper that with the fact that productivity has increased over the same period. (Many) companies are producing as much or more product with fewer employees.” The forum brought together 125 participants. “It was cross-section of people,” Snyder said. “I would say we had between 30 and 40 manufacturers represented. In many cases, companies sent more than one individual.” A key part of the program was an interactive panel discussion with local manufacturers. Tom Cunningham of Pasco Scientific, Robb Moore of ioSafe, Dave Baker of RobbJack and Nick Bruno of Harris & Bruno International gave their views on why manufacturing is on the decline in Placer County, obstacles to growth, what the government can do to assist and opportunities for manufacturing in the county. One suggestion was eliminating the state sales and use tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment. “For example, if you buy a piece of equipment in Roseville that costs $1 million, you will owe $82,500 in sales or use tax,” Snyder said. “The point is, if you buy that same piece of equipment in Texas, Washington, Oregon or Nevada, you pay nothing (in sales or use tax). That’s a lot of money you could be putting into payroll or something more productive.” There was agreement that the county is not in a position to attract the next Hewlett-Packard or Intel, so it should look at smaller, boutique firms instead and offer incentives to bring them here, Snyder said. “The reasons manufacturers brought their companies to Placer County are lifestyle and affordability compared to the Bay Area and other places, and also the workforce,” he said. “(The panelists) had an interesting take. They said the county should market the availability and advantages of the local supplier base. Manufacturers buy and sell from other manufacturers, industrial services and supply firms. That’s an advantage for us. You could shorten the supply chains by bringing in businesses that are selling to manufacturers.” Restoring the manufacturers association, which hasn’t existed since the late 1990s, might be in a different form, “a little more all-inclusive,” Snyder said. “Perhaps it wouldn’t be just manufacturers,” he said. “Maybe some suppliers and industrial sales and service (would be included).” For Cunningham, the forum was a great way to get people with common interests together, “especially on such an important thing as jobs in Placer County.” “It was good to get together and share best practices, and have a conversation with government officials on things coming down the pike,” Cunningham said. … “It was very clear from (statistics) given by Jack Stewart of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association that it is difficult to do business in California. Out of a list of states including District of Columbia, California ranked (at the bottom).” Cunningham said he’d like to see the forum repeated a couple of times a year and he supports bringing back the county’s manufacturing association. “Going from 51st to something else is going to take a pretty strong advocacy. People want jobs and people should be clamoring for that,” he said. “That is the No. 1 issue. Placer County has woken up to the value of having manufacturing jobs and (officials) are trying to get this going. I commend them for it.” In addition to Stewart, who was the keynote speaker, other presenters included Joel Ayala, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development; Ryan Sharp of the Center for Strategic Economic Research in Sacramento; Jes Vargas, consultant to Sierra College’s Center for Applied Competitive Technologies and Brian McMahon, executive director of the California Employment Training Panel. The day also featured a tour of Renesas Electronics America in Roseville, which hosted the gathering. Snyder said the success of the gathering exceeded his expectations. He plans to continue the dialogue by asking attendees to complete a critique of the forum, to find out what worked and what they disliked and to gauge interest in having a similar gathering sometime in the future. Reach Gloria Young at