California has a reputation as a tough place to start a business, and, to a point, it’s true. The same can be said for Santa Rosa.
It’s also true that government efforts to help business often go overlooked. Hey, no one ever won an election praising the efficiency of City Hall bureaucrats, right?
But Santa Rosa officials deserve some hearty applause for working with a major local employer save money, conserve water and add jobs in this community.
Seven months ago, Amy’s Kitchen said it was shelving plans to build a new food processing facility in Santa Rosa.
Last week, Amy’s came back — and the Petaluma-based company deserves some applause, too.
Amy’s, one of the nation’s fastest growing food companies, will soon begin producing a new line of entrees and snacks in southwest Santa Rosa, adding about 150 employees to the 1,000 it already employs in Sonoma County.
“Our growth has been faster than we expected this year, so we had to move quickly,” company co-founder Andy Berliner told Staff Writer Kevin McCallum.
One of the most common criticisms of Santa Rosa, and California, is that convoluted permit processes prevent business from responding quickly to changing market conditions. So it’s promising that, when the clock was running, Berliner found a solution in Santa Rosa.
“We’re working very cooperatively with them on it, and they understand our need to move quickly,” Berliner said.
Amy’s still plans to open a new food processing plant in Goshen, N.Y., a small farming community about an hour outside New York City. Amy’s announced plans for the New York plant at the same time that it scrapped plans to build in Santa Rosa.
At the time, Amy’s executives said the company needed a facility closer to its customers on the East Coast.
The relocation also saved Amy’s the $31 million cost of expanding Santa Rosa’s regional treatment plant to accommodate wastewater — an estimated 600,000 gallons a day, or 12 million gallons a month — produced by the food-processing plant.
There was a sizable uproar about the 10-figure wastewater fee, but there also would have been strong public opposition if ratepayers were asked to subsidize expansion costs for a developer, be it a food-processing plant or a subdivision.
The story could have ended there, with a trademark employer expanding elsewhere because of the high cost of doing business in Santa Rosa.
Instead, the city worked with Amy’s to reduce the amount of water used and wastewater produced by its existing factory in the Santa Rosa Corporate Center. A water audit, paid for by the city, has reduced Amy’s consumption by 1 million gallons a month — enough to supply 154 homes.
Some of those water-saving techniques may help at two other Amy’s facilities in Santa Rosa as well as the new one, which the company hopes to open by January. The city also is making upgrades at the treatment plant that will benefit Amy’s and other local food processors and brewers.
Amy’s also will benefit from a PG&E program that reduces utility costs for expanding businesses and a state sales tax exemption for manufacturing equipment.
Are there still obstacles to opening and expanding businesses in Santa Rosa? No doubt, and we’ll hear a lot about them from City Council candidates this fall. But, as evidenced by the expansion of Amy’s Kitchen, the city gets some things right, too.