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Team Effort Keeps Another Business in O.C. : Economy: Johnson battery plant and its 280 jobs will remain in Fullerton. Consortium helped it cut energy costs, meet regulations.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a major victory for forces seeking to keep businesses in Orange County, Johnson Controls Inc. has decided not to move an automotive battery plant--and 280 jobs--from Fullerton, officials said Thursday.

A team of executives from the Orange County Economic Development Consortium have been meeting with Johnson managers and union representatives during the summer to find ways that the company can cut its energy costs and meet environmental regulations.

The joint effort came up with ways to achieve a 25% energy savings by moving peak production to times of the day when electric rates are lower, said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), who was involved in negotiations. Johnson officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The team contacted Johnson after being alerted in June that the company was contemplating a move. Johnson, based in Milwaukee, said at the time that it was consolidating its battery plants nationwide.

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Thousands of jobs have slipped out of Orange County in the past five years as employers have sought more lenient environmental restrictions, lower workers’ compensation insurance costs and cheaper energy. Orange County Chamber of Commerce officials have joined other business groups to try to halt the exodus.

One of the coalition’s biggest victories came in June, when Taco Bell Corp. decided to keep its headquarters in Irvine for at least another five years. Its decision came after heavy lobbying, including personal appeals by Gov. Pete Wilson, imploring the company not to move.

And earlier this week, the city of Anaheim persuaded one of the nation’s largest makers of compact discs to stay put.

Disc Manufacturing Co., which had considered moving out of state, has decided instead to double its 170-person Anaheim work force over four years and spend $30 million to expand its operations there.

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Chamber Chairman H. Fred Mickelson said Johnson Control’s decision is particularly sweet because manufacturing jobs pay well and also spur the economy by supporting suppliers of raw materials and equipment.

“Every time we knock down barriers and provide solutions, it gets the word out and the confidence up that we can retain our business here,” he said.

In Johnson’s case, he said, cutting energy costs was a critical factor in enticing the company to stay. Electricity accounts for 10% to 15% of production costs at the Fullerton plant.

Union representatives were included in the negotiations, Mickelson said, and that was an important factor because part of the solution depends on workers being willing to take shifts that involve other than daytime hours.

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“This is a major victory because it’s proof that, if we get in with a customer and find out what the needs are . . . we can retain and grow businesses here in Orange County,” Mickelson said.


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