Busch, $175-Million Expansion Will Stay in Valley : Industry: The country’s third largest brewery, which had indicated it might leave, will modernize, but is not expected to hire any new employees immediately.
Assured by a promise of help from Mayor Richard Riordan to expedite official paperwork, the Anheuser-Busch Co., one of the San Fernando Valley’s biggest private employers, will remain in the Valley and launch a $175-million expansion program at its Van Nuys brewery, city officials said Thursday.
They pointed to nearly a year of meetings between brewery executives--who they said were thinking of moving--and the mayor’s office as an example of Riordan’s emphasis on keeping business and jobs in Los Angeles.
Riordan even telephoned Anheuser-Busch President August Busch earlier this year to persuade him to keep the brewery in Van Nuys, city officials said. It is the third largest in the world.
Riordan received City Council approval Wednesday to establish a business-retention team and hire at least a dozen people to staff it.
The Anheuser-Busch modernization effort is not expected to increase the number of employees at the brewery, a cluster of buildings along the San Diego Freeway, nor to increase the amount of land it occupies. The 40-year-old plant employs about 1,250 workers.
“Anheuser-Busch is one of the manufacturing jewels in the city’s crown, and it’s really good news that they’re staying put here in L.A.,” said Assistant Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo.
“Their modernization will allow them to increase production capacity there. If they didn’t do it, it would have meant an eventual reduction in jobs. But many years down the road, we’ll probably see many more jobs at this facility. If you’re a state-of-the-art plant, you’ll be more competitive and will eventually hire more people to stay competitive.”
In a press release, the company said the modernization plan will include construction of new high-speed can and bottle lines as well as improvements to its brewing system. Executives added Wednesday that the company also plans to automate its warehouse operations and build a new 36,000-square-foot brew house and fermentation room by the time the project is completed in late 1995.
The Anheuser-Busch brewery in Van Nuys, which ranks in size only behind the Coors facility in Golden, Colo., and the main Anheuser-Busch plant in St. Louis, exports beer to countries ranging from Central America to Asia.
Opened in 1954, the 90-acre facility once included a theme park named Busch Gardens, complete with rides and performing macaws. In 1979, the demand for more beer moved the company to pave over the gardens for more production space.
Officials said Anheuser-Busch representatives first approached the city a year ago to say they were considering relocating to another city but wanted to explore any help the company could get in expediting the expansion process if it chose to remain.
“It never came to the point of a threat,” Delgadillo said. “Whenever a company explores an expansion, they consider all their options, and that’s what they told us. They were exploring other sites. So, if it didn’t work out, they could have left. But it has always been a friendly dialogue.”
The company needs approvals for the expansion work from several agencies, including the city’s Public Works Department, Planning Department and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“They wanted us to be upfront with them about the planning process, and expedite the permitting process and make sure it was done in a timely manner,” Delgadillo said. “We told them we’d do the same thing for anybody who we had concerns about leaving.”
Since 1989, Southern California has lost more than 500,000 jobs, many of them prime manufacturing positions, Delgadillo said.
“We haven’t been competitive in a business-friendly way,” he said. “We’re working right now to improve on that, to make this a business-friendly city.”
Tom Henry, a planning and land-use aide to Councilman Joel Wachs, who represents the district where the brewery is situated, said Wachs’ office received a letter from Anheuser-Busch a few months ago requesting additional help in the permit process.
“They are the biggest single employer in the Valley,” he said. “Considering their track record about being good neighbors, we should keep them.”
Henry said Wachs was unaware that the company had been meeting privately with the mayor’s staff and wants to be sure that legal requirements are not short-circuited.
“If there are any necessary environmental reviews or discretionary actions by the city that necessitate public hearings, we want them to take place,” he said.
“Anheuser-Busch is a great employer in this community. We want their permits granted quickly, but definitely not secretively.”
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