ell-trained, experienced workers are the principal reason behind the expansion of several manufacturing companies in San Bernardino County, Calif., according to the corporate executives presiding over the recent investment decisions.
From aircraft components to casual outdoor furniture, the products being made in places like Apple Valley and Ontario are being fashioned by some of the best talent found anywhere in Southern California, these business leaders say.
Roberto Brand, president of aerospace parts manufacturer Telexca Inc., says that “we now have about 40 skilled technicians in composites for aircraft. We have managed to recruit and train technicians very well. Our customers have been very impressed that we can make the products in question at high quality and at a very competitive price.”
Nearly two decades after first opening his own small shop in a leased 1,000-sq.-ft. building in Hesperia, Brand now operates Telexca out of a 21,000-sq.-ft. facility in Apple Valley. He is planning to add another 10,000 sq. ft. and hire additional skilled labor in 2015.
“It has taken us about 20 years to get to be known by the major companies,” says Brand, who “retired” in 1993 as manager of materials and process lab for Hughes in Fullerton, Calif., before launching Telexca. “We are now doing business with four major tier-one suppliers in the aerospace industry.”
Brand says he is proudest of the fact that “there has never been a problem of us being in compliance with the FAA. We have been surveyed by Pratt & Whitney and others. They approve of our methodology.”
The results are people-driven, Brand says. “We make an investment with our people, and that investment pays off long-term. All of this really goes back to the community. It gives us a very high comfort level to know that we are located in just the right place. We don’t have to worry about the source of our future workers. We know where they are and we know we can train them.”
Furniture Maker Hits Paydirt
Terri Lee Rogers, president of OW Lee Company Inc., says that access to a qualified workforce in San Bernardino County has enabled her outdoor furniture company to grow in Ontario.
"It gives us a very high comfort level to know that we are located in just the right place. We don’t have to worry about the source of our future workers."
“Access to a good workforce is a key factor behind our success here,” she says. “Labor is important. Costs are good here too. We are able to run our business profitably within the state of California due to our location in Ontario.”
OW Lee was founded in Pasadena in 1947 and moved to Azusa in 1961 before ultimately relocating to Ontario in 1991. The company currently employs 140 people and occupies 97,000 sq. ft. but plans to purchase an additional 57,000 sq. ft. for expansion across the street.
“This is a friendly environment for manufacturing,” says Rogers. “This is probably one of the best places to manufacture in all of California. Our proximity to workforce, airports and ports, and the availability of affordable land and buildings all make San Bernardino County an attractive environment.”
She adds that “airport access here in Ontario is certainly a plus for us. There is a lot of warehousing around here and a lot of access to trucking companies. This is a major transportation and logistics hub for the entire Southern California region. Since the bulk of our business is to the western half of the United States, this is a good shipping point for the western half of the country.”
Larry Vaupel, economic development administrator for San Bernardino County, says that employers like Telexca and OW Lee are far from alone in the county. “If there is one word I would use to describe what’s happening in our county today, it would be momentum,” he says.
“There is almost $2 billion in infrastructure investment that is going on here right now. Companies see that and they are choosing to locate and expand here,” says Vaupel. “If these companies already have a presence in California, they get it. The cost of doing business here is much lower than other parts of the state. The Inland Empire and Central Valley have a reputation as where you want to go to find hard workers. In a lot of ways, it has been a blue-collar economy here. That has been one of our strengths.”
Vaupel says a competitive cost of living attracts employers to the county. “The affordability of San Bernardino County is a selling point,” he notes. “Elsewhere in California, you need to make $96,000 a year to afford a nice house. It takes far less than that to afford a comfortable home in San Bernardino County.” Vaupel added that a homebuyer in San Bernardino County would pay about $1,172 per month for housing costs, compared to $2,347 in Los Angeles County and $3,088 per month in Orange County, according to a 2014 Beacon Economics IE Economic Forecast.
URS Expands Big in Barstow
Employers are taking notice, he adds. “URS Corp. just landed out in Barstow. They are recruiting and hiring 485 mechanics. They service heavy equipment and body armor for military contracts. Those jobs pay $21 an hour.”
URS, which just won a multi-million-dollar defense contract at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, will also be hiring welders, auto body repair personnel, electronics technicians, automotive painters and material coordinators.
“We are delighted with the support we are receiving from the San Bernardino County Workforce Investment Board to help us find the qualified staff we need,” said Toby Bristow of URS.
Vaupel adds that “our workforce is 900,000 people. There are states that don’t have a workforce that size. Our big advantage, however, is that we help employers train their employees on the job. We see our role as partnering with those industries to make sure that they have the best and brightest workforce possible.”
Retaining that workforce within the county has been the key, he notes. “Only 30 percent of our workers now commute to jobs outside the region, which means that about two-thirds of them now stay here for gainful employment,” he says. “That has been huge for companies doing business here.”