Incentives Lure Firm to Moorpark


The consummation of a long, intense courtship came Wednesday afternoon with the turn of a shovel as a high-tech firm that almost abandoned California broke ground instead for its new factory in Moorpark.

Special Devices Inc. had outgrown its Newhall plant and almost moved to Mesa, Ariz., nearly three years ago.

But Moorpark and the California Trade and Commerce Agency’s vaunted “red team” of negotiators campaigned heavily to bring the company to town, sweetening their pleas with $6 million in tax breaks, reduced or eliminated fees and other incentives.

After nearly a year of hard bargaining, Special Devices consented. And after another two years, Special Devices’ top brass joined city, county and state officials Wednesday afternoon in grabbing shovels and breaking ground on the rugged 285-acre site at the eastern end of Los Angeles Avenue.


“SDI’s going to be a welcome member of the community,” Moorpark Mayor Patrick Hunter said as he rode a bus back to City Hall from the ceremony. “We’re hopeful that the people at SDI are going to shop in Moorpark, they’re going to eat in Moorpark, and we’re hopeful that many of them will find Moorpark an excellent place to settle and raise a family.”

By 1998, Special Devices plans to have its new 195,000-square-foot plant built, open and employing 600 people to design and manufacture small explosive devices used in products as varied as missiles and automobile air bags.

The firm, already one of the world’s largest makers of air-bag activators, could hire as many as 400 additional people and expand by another 135,000 square feet, said Nelson Miller, Moorpark’s community development director.

And that would make Special Devices one of the largest employers in Ventura County, which was badly hobbled by recession-era layoffs in the aerospace industry.


The company’s staff will bring a welcome influx of cash to Moorpark, which lost business when Litton Industries moved a division with several hundred employees from its Moorpark facility in the early ‘90s, said Linda Plaks, president of the Moorpark Chamber of Commerce.

“That had a very sad effect on the economy,” Plaks said. “The Chamber of Commerce is looking at SDI as another good business partner in the community.”

Special Devices will do everything it can to encourage its present workers to move closer to the Moorpark headquarters, said John Vinke, chief financial officer.

But some SDI workers live as far away as Palmdale and Lancaster, and the manufacturer is still weighing the costs of offering incentives for employees who move, such as covering the cost of relocating to Ventura County, Vinke said.

Meanwhile, bulldozers have begun preliminary grading on a site that will remain mostly vacant.

While 246 acres must be preserved as open space, there is room on the buildable 39-acre part of the site for a hotel and 170,000 square feet of commercial space, if the economy permits, Miller said.

Economic consultant Diane Grover, a former Southern California Edison executive, looked over the site in the setting sun Wednesday with a satisfied--if somewhat breathless--grin.

Grover led the red team that often found itself in a tug of war with Mesa officials before Special Devices executives were finally persuaded to resettle in Moorpark.


“Every time they’d go to Mesa, we’d hold our breath because we knew [Mesa] would be very aggressive. They had a lot more financial incentives they could offer,” Grover said.

But the team kept up the momentum and grew at its height to 40 or 50 people dedicated to securing the benefits and incentives that would keep a grip on Special Devices, she said.

“This is phenomenal,” she said as company and city officials posed with gold-tipped shovels for another round of snapshots. “I’m so glad to be here. They’re a wonderful company. What impressed us most about them was they showed great loyalty to their employees by staying in California.”