In another sign that the local business climate is improving, a number of high-profile corporations are relocating into Lancaster bringing with them the prospect of long-term employment.
The latest commercial and industrial developments in the Antelope Valley may signify a renewal of positive economic trends statewide; the cash crisis which has beset California for the past five years is beginning to ebb, and that can mean more local business start-ups, increased consumer spending and needed revenue for municipal budgets.
Already a number of firms have committed to Lancaster, among them Morton Manufacturing of Santa Clarita; Incotec, based in Mojave; Kaiser Permanente’s expansion here, as well as the new City of Hope facility under construction at Antelope Valley Hospital.
As reported in the Aug. 9 edition of Our Weekly, Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris believes the renewed confidence in the economy will realize positive benefits for the region. “As we continue to successfully emerge from the recession, the value of these new positions at well-established and profitable firms is just enormous,” Parris said last week. “We as a city are continuing to actively seek out new engines of economic growth, while promoting policies designed to attract companies to Lancaster.”
Morton Manufacturing makes fasteners for the aerospace industry, a fortuitous operation near Edwards Air Force Base, which boasts tenants Lockheed-Martin, Northrop-Grumman and Boeing, the latter being the world’s largest producer of commercial and military aircraft.
The company specializes in the production of nickel-alloy bolts for gas-turbine aircraft engines. “We are excited to become a member of the city of Lancaster business community,” said Morton chairwoman and CEO Yolanda Morton in a June press release. “We greatly appreciate the business-friendly environment and consideration shown to us by all staff members at (Lancaster) City Hall.
The move reportedly took about 200 jobs from Santa Clarita, with another 100 expected to be created here. Morton will occupy a 10.6-acre parcel in the Lancaster Business Park, near East Avenue K-15 and Business Center Parkway.
Incotec, another aeronautics subcontractor, manufactures fastener coatings for firms such as Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Goodrich and Northrop. The company, which in three years has grown from 48 to 170 employees, is expected to bring 50 new jobs into Lancaster. “Lancaster is one of the few places in the state which is still pro business,” said Bob Briley, founder and CEO of Incotec.
Incotec has enjoyed a 300 percent increase in gross sales since 2010. “The city welcomed us with open arms, always offering assistance during the expansion process,” said Briley. “It has been a great pleasure working with them. From a business standpoint, Lancaster is the place to be.”
Parris as well said the city is “thrilled” to welcome Incotec, noting “ . . . success brings success.” He said growing the community by starting with neighborhoods has been a key to attracting new businesses. “Now, with a winning combination of our business-friendly policies, health and wellness initiatives, outstanding education system, and growing economy, the city of Lancaster is poised for great growth throughout the coming years.”
Kaiser Permanente will expand its employment in the city when construction of its new 136,000-square-foot office complex is completed next year.
The facility will feature both offices as well as a number of specialized care facilities. The complex will also be Kaiser Permanente’s first Net-Zero facility (a reduced energy or “green” hospital that uses new technology to improve healthcare delivery).
The facility won’t offer emergency services but, instead, will provide urgent care and a pharmacy. An “urgent care” need is one that requires prompt medical attention, usually within 24 to 48 hours, but is not an emergency medical condition. Examples of urgent care include: minor injuries, sore throats and upper respiratory symptoms, ear aches, coughs and backaches. Also, new medical offices will open next year at 615 W. Avenue L.
Construction continues at the City of Hope facility on the grounds of Antelope Valley Hospital. The world-famous cancer treatment center will house more than 56,000 square feet of patient-care, office and educational facilities. The building phase is expected to provide jobs for up to 175 construction workers, and 30 staff members will be added once it’s completed later this year..
Work is ongoing at the new Marriott TownPlace Suites Hotel, a development that has employed more than 80 construction workers and is expected to offer 280 permanent jobs when it opens next year. The hotel will feature an accompanying complex of shops and restaurants. An 88-room Best Western is scheduled for 20th Street West and Avenue I. The Lancaster Tourism Business Improvement District was launched in February to generate new revenue for the lodging and hospitality industry, establishing a 2 percent assessment on gross short-term room rental that funds marketing efforts to encourage more overnight stays.
At the North Valley Industrial Center, the Los Angeles County Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center, will be a 124,000-square-foot complex consisting of a 39,000-square-foot ambulatory surgery center, a 38,000-square-foot clinical services building, a central plant and a 47,000-square-foot administrative support building.
The Southern Amargosa Industrial Area will feature a 9,608-square-foot building near Avenue M and 12th Street West, while grading permits have been issued at the Fox Field Industrial Corridor for the near 216-acre photovoltaic electric generation facility at the northeast and southeast corners of 100th Street West and Avenue I.
With the addition of two BYD (Build Your Dreams) manufacturing plants for electric buses and the accompanying batteries, Lancaster is among county’s “most business-friendly” cities, according to a ranking released this week by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. The panel said Lancaster’s economic stimulus package, streamlined permit process and reduced transaction fees have spurred economic, community and real estate development, including the award-winning downtown revitalization project, which has transformed the area into a vibrant cultural center with 50 new businesses and hundreds of new jobs.
“A major benefit here is that Lancaster (real estate) is inexpensive per cost of square feet,” said Joseph Cabral, Lancaster director of publications. “A good example is Morton Manufacturing. They needed to expand, but there was no room in Santa Clarita . . . it’s effectively built out. We have the room here. Within the region, there is no other place for manufacturing facilities to go. We are the new frontier for commercial and industrial firms.”
In addition, Cabral explained, since the modern Antelope Valley was essentially founded on the aerospace industry, many of those engineers and scientists still reside in the area. That fact encouraged Solar City to establish itself here and seek input from local colleges, which are some of the world’s foremost experts in aeronautics and high-tech applications.
According to a 2012 California economic forecast, submitted by the Kyser Center for Economic Research, California’s labor market has registered gains for the past two years, albeit at an uneven pace. State unemployment rates fell modestly from 12.4 percent in 2010 to 11.8 percent in 2011. A UCLA study this year said California’s labor market will see “steady but slow” gains in employment, with a growth of 1.8 percent, but will likely dip to 8.3 percent next year.
There is slightly better news on the housing front, the UCLA study reported, though Anderson Forecast Senior Economist Jerry Nickelsburg said it is “difficult” to find objective evidence to predict a turn in California’s real estate and residential construction for 2013.
“What we are left with is the hope that a slowing decline in prices and a decline in foreclosures signals such a turn, but like heat rising out of the alkali pans of the desert, these data might well be a mirage,” Nickelsburg told the Beverly Hills Courier last summer. The report did say that construction permits would likely jump some 40 percent by the end of this year, and then soar dramatically in 2014 to reach 130,000 permits.
Bill Watkins, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at Cal Lutheran University, said in March that the confluence of changes in demographics, technology, business regulation, tax policy, global trading and even the state and nation’s lower birth rate are shifting the economic climate . . . and not always for the better.
“For the past 20 years, more people have moved to other states than moved here, and our birth rate is declining,” Watkins said. He explained that the “most urgent” thing for California to learn to do is “do regulation right,” noting that the present regulatory environment creates delay, uncertainty and loss of competitive advantage for the state’s business and industry.
According to the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance, Lancaster boasts one of Southern California’s “lowest costs” ($0.002 percent) for operating a business, as well as a relatively low property tax rate (1.21 percent) compared to San Bernardino (1.34 percent) or neighboring Palmdale at 1.37 percent. Still, both the Kyser Center and UCLA-Anderson reports say the region’s housing starts/sales will continue to merely inch back toward stability.
Last year, Lancaster received accolades for the revitalized Lancaster BLVD, a project that garnered national attention from the Environmental Protection Agency with the National Award for Smart Growth Achievement in Overall Excellence, as well as the statewide California Downtown Association Award of Excellence for Physical Transformation.
The recent revitalization efforts have encompassed the construction or rehabilitation of more than 800 housing units and about 116,000 square feet of commercial space, as well as the attraction of 50 new businesses. Construction in downtown Lancaster continues to grow with a two-story, mixed-use office building and a retail development, the latter with a long-term plan to grow into a five-story “boutique style” hotel, both of which should be completed by the end of this year. To date, the BLVD Transformation project has generated an estimated $273 million in economic output.
City officials cite the intensity of interest in the Antelope Valley as the best outlet for so-called “pent-up” demand for more commercial and industrial developments. Also, with the scheduled high-speed rail system traveling southward from the Central Valley through the region, there will be additional opportunities in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
There are expected job openings in Lancaster and within the Antelope Valley in general. Residents are encouraged to attend the third annual Job Services Network Job Fair, scheduled Sept. 26 at the Lancaster National Soccer Center, 43000 30th St. East. For more details, visit http://www.cityoflancasterca.org/2013 jobfair.