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Forum renews focus on airport industrial park

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A city-owned industrial park that has been one of the Auburn area’s major economic drivers for three decades is getting renewed attention. A forum on the Auburn Airport Industrial Park last week brought together business and government leaders to discuss both the pluses and minuses of the industrial park area. The spike in interest in the North Auburn park comes as the local economy suffers through a continuing economic downturn that one speaker from the real estate sector said has resulted in the highest vacancy rate for commercial real estate that he has seen in the 20 years he has been in the industry. But industrial real estate has been weathering the downturn better than commercial, added Todd Sanfilippo, a sales agent with CB Richard Ellis. Sanfillipo said that he’s expecting another 18 more months of tough times ahead for the commercial real estate market before things level out. “But it’s a great time to be a tenant,” Sanfillipo said. “You can move from a Class C to a Class A office for not a lot more money.” Mike Fluty, an Auburn-area commercial broker with Coldwell Banker, said the real assets that the area has had in attracting business and industry are quality of life and good schools. The airport business park area has challenges because of a preponderance of vacancies in its biggest spaces, Fluty said. That includes three of four buildings making up nearly 200,000 square feet of space formerly occupied by laser-maker Coherent. Another is a warehouse that has stood vacant for several years and was formerly a regional distribution warehouse for United Natural Foods. Both businesses are now no longer located in Auburn. Among the success stories highlighted at Thursday’s forum at The Ridge was Miltenyi BioTec, a company that specializes in stem-cell research. It’s moving from smaller quarters at the industrial park to a 60,000-square-foot building formerly occupied by Coherent. Citing overflight and safety issues surrounding the airport, Fluty suggested that the forum could evolve into a group that could consider modifying some regulations. But Auburn City Councilman Bill Kirby warned that any effort would have to tread carefully if changes resulted in any threat to the airport. “The airport is a huge advantage,” Kirby said. “No way are federal rules going to be modified without losing the airport.” The forum— organized by the Auburn Office of the City Manager and the county Office of Economic Development — also heard from Barbara Hayes, CEO of the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization. Hayes said that over the past 10 years, demand has shifted away from corporations like Hewlett Packard and Intel seeking to build at large campuses to smaller employers with 40 to 60 employees looking for existing spaces. Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. .