Take another look at industry taxing, port boss says|[01/29/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A point-by-point examination of the Warren County’s industrial tax incentives is a plausible first step to insulating the local area’s business scene from national economic woes, the county’s economic developer said Monday.

Speaking from Washington, D.C., where he is part of a contingent lobbying for federal dollars for numerous local projects, Warren County Port Commission Executive Director Wayne Mansfield continued to paint as a surprise the departure of the Simpson Dura-Vent venting supply plant at Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex.

Despite the second closure at Ceres in 14 months, Mansfield said key strategies to sell Ceres and the Port of Vicksburg as potential sites for expanding a company’s operations won’t change much because of a balanced mix of local industries.

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“We have a very diversified economy,” Mansfield said, likening the need to examine all local and state-administered tax breaks to that of the tax system statewide.

In addition to market forces, CEO Stephen Eberhard said the county’s refusal to ease its tax on inventory also played a part in the company’s decision to consolidate its operations in Vacaville, Calif., located about halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento.

Mansfield did not take a firm position on the break, but said examining the inventory tax should play a part in any debate over which exemptions to offer.

“It’s about balancing your incentives,” Mansfield said, casting Vicksburg’s location along Interstate 20 and access to the Mississippi River as a strategic buffer against national economic downturns and a continuing housing slump — blamed by the company for double-digit sales losses in the second and third quarters of 2007. The company makes ready-to-install flues, chimneys and other products, many of which are used in new home construction, which has seen a national downturn.

Simpson’s phased closing of its Vicksburg plant will come over a two-year period. It will affect 170 full-time employees, all of whom have been assured a chance to stay with the company at its California manufacturing base or its warehouses in Minnesota and Ontario, Canada. Bonuses will be offered to those who stay on through the next two years, the company has said.

Its primary manufacturing plant in California expanded to 38,000 square feet in September and will hire 100 to 150 more workers, Eberhard told a Vacaville newspaper, The Reporter, shortly after the closing was announced Thursday.

As Mansfield planned to accompany more than a dozen local officials, including Mayor Laurence Leyens and District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, prospective calls had continued at a clip of “four to five a week,” he said, mostly for distribution centers and firms looking to expand into alternative fuels.

Simpson Dura-Vent opened its doors at Ceres in 1998 after running out of space at the E.W. Haining Industrial Center at the Port of Vicksburg. Ceres and the harbor sites are the county’s two prime industrial locations, both managed by the five-member port commission.

The company followed CalsonicKansei North America, which announced closing of its Ceres plant in November 2006. The company, which made exhaust systems, catalytic converters and manifolds as a Tier 1 supplier for Nissan, had opened in 2002.

According to Warren County tax records, the company paid $53,038.97 in property taxes to Warren County in 2007.