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Jim Ruffalo: Is it me or does Auburn Airport resemble a ghost town?

Looking Behind the Scenes
By: Jim Ruffalo
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Maybe I’m wrong, but after a quick trip through the Auburn Airport environs it appeared to me to have all the makings of a ghost town. Don’t get me wrong. Things weren’t as bad as, say, downtown Sacramento in the area of the old federal court office. There, it was one empty storefront after another, and one vacant office building or factory site in about every group of three. No, it’s not quite that bad over at the local airport’s once-busy airpark, but there were still more empties there than a frat-house recycling bin on a Sunday morning. Now various Auburn city officials — especially City Manager Bob Richardson — insist that the vacancy rate at the airport is no worse — or better, for that matter — than any other area, and he’s got the figures showing either square footage or actual site statistics to back him up on that claim. Still, it looks quite forlorn out there, so I innocently asked if anybody’s doing anything about fixing that. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that the city council and Richardson himself insisted that the airpark was the future of Auburn. Turns out there’s quite a bit happening, although will all the effort be successful is the big — and yet unanswered — question. Seems that the city’s economic development council (EDC) has made that area its prime concern, beginning with an informational campaign that took the novel approach of asking existing tenants why they’re still there. While the Gentle Reader and your humble servant both know that one big reason for staying is that it’s so difficult to move, we all are aware that is usually the most important facet of sticking around. But another answer started popping up on the EDC’s question list, and that turned out to be what they used to call “pine power.” ”There’s something about the way of living up here that people like and want to be a part of,” insists city council member Bridget Powers, a member of the EDC So armed with some video tapes , which she insists is part of “an old sales approach with new technology,” Powers and the rest of the EDC have been making the rounds, hoping to entice businesses to relocate to the local airpark. “We’re concentrating on the Bay Area, at present,” Powers said, adding that another big push has been with big brokerages and real estate offices. “We’ve been somewhat surprised at the reaction we’re getting,” Richardson said, pointing out that the many of the California companies Auburn’s approached express surprise that somebody in state is after them. “Apparently, no California city is recruiting other California companies to relocate,” he said, adding that the feedback has been that the state has given up on the state. We all know that talking a good game is one thing, but results are what matters. In other words, is the program working? Are we going to see some new or relocated businesses coming to the airpark? “Well,” Richardson paused, “we’ve just started. The big push comes this winter. Still, from what I’m hearing, I wouldn’t rule out some new tenants out there in the very near future.” Yes, I know. I got that same feeling I was being waltzed once around the room without benefit of a good orchestra. On the other hand, people in existing businesses out there report seeing visits being conducted at empty sites, and diners over at the Airport’s Wings say not a week goes by that a group of visitors noshes it up at the local restaurant after visiting and viewing nearby sites. Mayor Bill Kirby says several perspective candidates are looming for the airpark, although he declined to be specific, other than to admit that some Japanese companies appear highly interested in relocating here. “They’re telling us the main reason they want to come here, other than it appears to be a great environment for business, is that they’re looking for a stable energy platform,” he said. One local businessman, who asked not to identified, says he was interviewed by a representative of a Japanese company expressing an interest to come here. “The company builds new stuff for existing cell phones, and there was another Japanese company looking to come here that was involved in some sort of cutlery,” the source told me. “Both of them appeared very interested in being here.” Richardson wouldn’t comment on that, but it hardly appeared to be news to him. “The push has been to go after companies with national and international marketing,” was all he would say on that. And it turns out, the approach isn’t just Auburn’s. “We’ve been getting a lot of help from the county, especially from David Snyder and his economic people,” Powers said. That makes sense, seeing as how the county has about half of the airpark, and just as many empties. Frankly. the airpark hasn’t always seemed to have any sort of priority in recent years, and there’s real potential out there, especially considering today’s technology where an office can be carried on a laptop, and regional shipping makes so much more sense than does international. Think about it! If just 20 percent of those vacancies get filled, it would be a huge economic windfall locally, especially for the jobs market. It’s good that Auburn and the county are trying to do this, because all of us know the state and the federal government either can’t or won’t. Jim Ruffalo’s column runs on Sundays. Reach him at jimruffalo@yahoo.com.