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Kodak in Auburn: City’s bigger picture shouldn’t be taken for granted

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The multinational Kodak corporation’s choice of Auburn over 80 other communities for one of its software project development satellites demonstrates that this area has plenty to offer. But let’s not get too self-congratulatory just yet. The door has been propped open for growth built on this initial success. Now it’s imperative for governmental and private sectors to work together to hold on to this strategic gain in the quest of jobs and new economic vitality in the face of a withering economy. There’s room to build on a success that could be a harbinger of a new wave of interest in the area. Kodak is now the good example of a corporation moving to Auburn. Future marketing of underutilized properties – particularly the city-owned Airport Industrial Park – needs to trumpet that. In the 1980s, Silicon Valley laser maker Coherent touched off a wave of growth when it moved its manufacturing division to Auburn. At its peak, the corporation was employing more than 500 people and several high-tech offshoots had grown up around the growing complex. Two decades later, Coherent is gone. So is nearby Mountain People’s Warehouse. Both were big job generators in their time but found locations elsewhere that suited their needs better. They continued to fulfill their lease obligations and wrote those losses off on their books. Those huge empty buildings that they left behind in North Auburn are no advertisement for corporations to come hither. Enter Kodak. The corporation has been a sleeping giant in recent years as the world has shifted from film stock to digital. It hasn’t been as nimble as other companies but has shown signs of moving forward into the digital age with renewed vigor. The Auburn think-tank developing software applications at the Creekside Business Park will employ 34 workers and if the job search information available on the Web is any indication, they’ll be skilled (master’s degrees are preferred) and well-paid ($100,000 and up). The city of Auburn needs to ramp up its efforts to retain another job-generator at Creekside. That would be the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. It’s a state-funded government entity that oversees conservation efforts in the Sierra Nevada region and has yet to commit to Auburn on a long-term basis. Locking in the conservancy, in the face of an exodus of Placer County legal and law enforcement personnel to South Placer County from the Placer County Courthouse in Auburn, will build new potential into the community, drawing consultants and environmental firms who need to be “where the action is.” Creekside, which strategically sits adjacent to the passenger-rail station and bus links, is an example of good planning – not only by the city, but by private enterprise willing to take a risk and seeing it pay off. The local partnership of Dennis Meyer, Ron Meyer, Paul Aronowitz and Jeff Dutra should get the kudos here for the vision to build. And Eugene Burger Management Corporation’s Karen Brigg, senior vice president of the company that manages the park, should be praised for putting an agreement together to bring Kodak here. Now it’s a matter of making Kodak welcome and showing the bigger business world that they too can find a home in a community that has plenty to offer – from recreational amenities in the American River canyon to good transportation links to a small-town ambience – but also doesn’t take its advantages for granted.