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Placer County forum puts manufacturing in focus

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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A forum in October will look at ways to strengthen manufacturing in Placer County. Set for Oct. 14, it will bring together local manufacturers with state and local officials and experts. “It’s the first time ever (to have a manufacturers’ forum),” county Economic Development Director Dave Snyder said Tuesday. The idea for the forum came out of the recently completed Placer County Economic Development Board roadmap. “In the strategy, there was some discussion of the fact that, like the region, the state and the country, Placer County has been losing manufacturing jobs,” Snyder said. “So we thought it would be a good idea to pull together a forum, invite manufacturers and find out if there are some things we can do to either improve the business climate or make it easier to do business in Placer County.” Keynote speaker will be Jack Stewart, president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association. Others at the podium will include Joel A. Ayala, director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development; Ryan Sharp, director of the Center for Strategic Economic Research in Sacramento; Jes Vargas, a consultant to Sierra College’s Center for Applied Competitive Technologies and Brian McMahon, executive director of the California Employment Training Panel. There will also be two panel discussions — an interactive session featuring local manufacturers and another session focused on tools and techniques manufacturers can use to reduce costs, according to a county press release. One of the panel members will be Dave Baker, president of Robbjack Corporation in Lincoln. Robbjack manufactures rotary cutting tools. “Those are the tools machinists use,” he explained. Baker, a member of the Economic Development Board, said the impact of the recession on his company was “brutal.” “We had a very difficult time about a year ago but we’re doing much better today,” he said. “A year ago we laid off 10 percent of our workforce and cut the remaining (hours and salaries) by 10 percent. Upper management took an additional 10 percent cut. It has all been very serious. We’ve hired back a few of the employees and brought people back to full time, but (we’re not doing) any hiring.” The forum will address three things — maintaining manufacturing businesses in Placer County, learning how to have manufacturers grow and prosper “so we can keep them,” and looking for ways to attract new manufacturers that complement what’s here, Baker said. “We think manufacturing is a very important segment because it creates jobs, brings in money and creates taxes,” he said. Robbjack was founded in 1960 in Mountain View and moved to Lincoln in 1990 “so our employees could afford to buy homes,” Baker said. “When we made that move, we brought 46 of the 48 employees here. It has been good. We enjoy the labor force we’re able to get in this area.” Today, Robbjack has nearly 100 employees, he said. So far, the Economic Development Board has received 100 reservations for the forum. Snyder would like to see that grow to 125. “The most important thing is to have enough manufacturers in the audience to get some feedback and, based on the feedback, get some policy recommendations and look for ways to help them do business in Placer County,” Snyder said. Snyder is not approaching the gathering with any preconceived ideas of what the manufacturers will suggest. “I expect they’ll bring up the regulatory environment and that there’ll be some discussion of taxes,” he said. “I expect there’ll be a discussion of things like workers compensation, health care costs and some of those types of things. I’m anxious to listen and learn as well.” Manufacturing job losses have leveled off this year in Placer County, he said. “But I think there’s been at least two or three occasions in the last decade when we’ve gone through a year or more of manufacturing losses,” he said. Sharp’s talk will provide a historical perspective up to the present day on those losses. “He’ll talk about whether it has leveled off or if we’re continuing to see some losses,” Snyder said. In fact, Placer County has seen some recent growth in the manufacturing sector. “We ran an update of the business license list for 2010 and we did find that there are eight new manufacturers in the county,” Snyder said. “They’re primarily startup and smaller firms.” Robert Weygandt and Jennifer Montgomery, who represent the Board of Supervisors on the Economic Development Board, and Steven J. Nichols, chairman, will offer opening remarks, introduce speakers and serve as moderators for the panel discussions. “Manufacturing currently is a relatively small sector of Placer County’s economy, but our county has a lot to offer manufacturers, including a well-educated workforce, a central location in the Sacramento region and available land and buildings,” Weygandt said in a press statement Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com ---------- Placer County 2010 Manufacturer’s Forum When: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14 at Renesas Electronics America, 7501 Foothills Blvd., Roseville Cost: $35 per person in advance and $40 at the door (includes continental breakfast and luncheon) Deadline of Sept 30 will be extended. For more information and registration, call Kelly Kreeger at (530) 889-4016