Supervisors delay action on business incubator

January 24, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday put off taking action to join efforts in bringing a business incubator to Calexico.

The incubator is being promoted by the Small Manufacturers Association of Southern California, whose officials are seeking to partner with local government agencies to improve the chances of receiving state and federal grants to move the project forward.

Brad Ward, SMA president and chief executive officer, said the total amount needed to build the project is $2.6 million. Actually, $989,100 would be sought from the federal Economic Development Administration to construct the facility; $989,100 would be sought in state and local agency matching funds for land, furniture, equipment and tools; and $895,000 would be sought in state and local funds for so-called soft costs, that is, infrastructure, computers and software. The total is $2.87 million.

"My request is that you become an equity partner at zero price," Ward told the board, adding if desired, the board could help with the costs of the incubator. "At this point we're going to give you one-third of the equity for your signature as coapplicants."


When pressured, Ward said $1.6 million is needed to make the project work, and that a united voice — that is, SMA, the county and the city of Calexico — would lead to better results when approaching the state seeking funding.

"We think that politically, that would give us more clout," Ward said.

As it stands, only the city of Calexico has proffered a potential partnership agreement to Ward.

Under terms of the potential agreement, the city of Calexico would pay for the necessary infrastructure at the project site, an estimated cost of $170,00 for water and sewer setups. The investment by the city would entitle it to half ownership in the incubator, the agreement states.

"The two partners may determine at a later date that additional owners should be brought into the project," the agreement states.

Ward provided the board with copies of letters of support for the project from the governor of Baja California Norte, Alejandro Gonzalez Alcocer, addressed to the governor of California; the Maquiladora Association of Mexicali; the county Board of Supervisors; the city of Calexico; the Valley of Imperial Development Alliance; San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus; Imperial Valley College; and Desert Real Estate Investors of Calexico.

The project would be located near the intersection of Cole Road and Sunset Boulevard in Calexico.

Ward said an application seeking grant moneys from the federal government must be submitted by Saturday. Despite the short deadline, supervisors and county staff members had numerous concerns about the project.

County Executive Officer Ann Capela said the concept is a good one but that she has not seen the business model being promoted and she would like to meet with Calexico and state representatives on the issue before the Board of Supervisors decides on any action.

Concerns included who would manage the facility, where the workforce would come from and how it would be trained. Others questioned the role of the county in such a private venture.

Supervisors Chairman Tony Tirado, however, said the board should seriously consider its participation just as it participated in bringing the beef-processing plant to Brawley, in the expansion of the U.S. Gypsum facility in Ocotillo, in a planned expansion of the Gossner cheese factory and in investing in sugar cane research.

Another issue of concern was the offer by Desert Real Estate Investors, which offered to donate the necessary five acres for the project but in return seeks "off-site improvements adjacent to the property equivalent to the donated square footage at a rate of approximately $1 per square foot." It was estimated at the supervisors meeting that the "donation" of the land would actually cost about $217,000.

The goals of the incubator project are to provide a "smart building" with state-of-the-art manufacturing and communications capabilities to spawn business growth and advanced technology-focused skill sets in the Imperial Valley border region, bridge the so-called digital divide and reduce local unemployment.

Three targeted industry sectors are the design, construction and repair of precision tooling; the design, construction and repair of custom machine tools; and the creation, deployment, installation and maintenance of bilingual information technology software and hardware.

In the end, the board directed staff to further study the issue.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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