The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy
Business & Economy

From Sriracha sauce to jet engine parts, LAEDC tries to keep jobs in LA

The LAEDC helped Huy Fong Foods reach a compromise to keep operating its Sriracha factory in   Irwindale
The LAEDC helped Huy Fong Foods reach a compromise to keep operating its Sriracha factory in Irwindale
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Even as California loses manufacturing jobs, a program run by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation has fought to save some. 

When a company is considering relocating to take advantage of lower costs or an easier business climate, the LAEDC’s business assistance program steps in.  

It did so in the well-publicized case of Huy Fung Foods last year.  

When the city of Irwindale filed a lawsuit against the Sriracha sauce-maker because of bad smells, politicians from other states - most notably Texas - began to circle, offering the company a new home.  

Fighting against those suitors is a  familiar dance for the nonprofit Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Many states and municipalities have similar agencies, whose job it is to try to attract and keep employers.

In the Sriracha case, the LAEDC prepared an economic impact analysis, met with the company and the South Coast Air Quality Management District and negotiated a compromise that kept the hot sauce manufacturer here, according to Carrie Rogers, Vice President of Business Assistance and Development with LAEDC.

"We all love Sriracha," she said, adding that she was happy to keep the "180 jobs and really to thwart the efforts of Governor Perry from Texas to try to lure our company away to their state."

The LAEDC estimates its business assistance program has played a role in keeping or luring 200,000 jobs since 1996, when it was formed. It's being recognized by the County Board of Supervisors for those efforts today.

But plenty of jobs still leave.

In a study published in July, the LAEDC said between 1990 and 2012, California lost about 40 percent of its manufacturing jobs – 842,180. 

"We compete internationally so a lot of our competitors have gone to Mexico," said Jeff Hynes, CEO of Covina-based Composites Horizons Incorporated, which makes ceramic structures for jet engines. "A week doesn’t go by that I don’t get a call from an economic development corp out of Texas or the South."

He scored a big contract recently and needed to expand fast to begin fulfilling orders. 

"Los Angeles  - in our particular industry - has a very good supplier base with materials and equipment," he said "but certainly facility costs are lower in other areas of the state and country."  

He said the LAEDC helped him get the permits quickly to buy and modify another building on its street and they decided to stay put. 

Composites Horizons currently employs 200 people but plans to add 50 employees this year and another 50 next year, he said. 

Rogers, of the LAEDC, said that may not seem like much, but it's important to support businesses like this one.

"When you take a step back and think about it, here’s a company that’s growing when many businesses aren’t," she said. "We know there are suppliers that feed into Composites Horizons. So when they get millions of dollars worth of contracts, we know that many more companies and employees around the county will be employed doing work directly for this company."