New PG&E program convinces Graton company to stay

  • Jesus Morales of Empire West, a ceiling tile manufacturer in Graton, prepares to package plastic ceiling tiles, Tuesday Aug. 24, 2014. The company will stay in Sonoma County because PG&E is offering lower rates in order to retain businesses. The ceiling tile company will use more than $100,000 in electricity per year. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

Texas, Nevada and Oregon are among the states that tried to lure plastic ceiling tile maker Empire West away from the old apple-drying plant in Graton where the manufacturer has been located for more than 30 years.

“They understand they’re good jobs so they’re recruiting like crazy,” said Ed Davis, the company’s president.

But Empire West’s 30 local jobs will be staying put thanks to a new job retention and development program offered by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Davis said. Empire West, which also has two employees in Portland, Ore., has become the first business in Sonoma County — and among the first in the region — to qualify to take part in PG&E’s new Economic Development Rate program.

Under the program, the company will receive a 12 percent reduction in its power rates for five years.

Before it enrolls a company, PG&E must determine that the business would leave the state or close its doors “if this program were not offered to them,” said Jonathan Marshall, a spokesman for the utility. Both PG&E and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development screen the applications.

“It’s important to all of us in California that they stay here,” Marshall said of such businesses. “And it’s important to PG&E.”

Empire West enrolled in the program with the help of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board. Tim Ricard, a board manager for business retention, said he learned about the new incentive and immediately thought of the Graton company.

“I knew they were being heavily recruited outside the area,” Ricard said. He also knew that energy costs were one of the company’s major concerns.

Founded in 1968, Empire West makes custom plastics using a process called thermoforming, where plastic sheet material is softened with heat, stretched over a mold and cooled to retain the shape of the mold.

The company has made products for several local tech companies, as well as special items that have appeared in such movies as “Ghostbusters II” and “Star Trek IV.”

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