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Enterprise Zone in Los Angeles Helping Small Manufacturer Expand

Here is a nice article from the Los Angeles Daily News of how the Enterprise Zone is helping to expand manufacturing and create new jobs:

CHATSWORTH – Jonathan Ward has built a solid business out of crafting the ultimate custom getaway rides: state-of-the-automotive-art replicas of vintage utility vehicles such as Willys Jeeps, Toyota Land Cruisers and Ford Broncos.

His ICON vehicles are carefully custom-assembled to look like rugged off-roaders from decades ago, melded onto modern powertrains with amenities like Alpine sound systems.

It can take 10 to 12 months just to assemble one – and they’re not cheap: prices range from $78,000 to $215,000.

“They’re all bespoke tailored,” explained Ward, 42. “How tall are you? How old are you? How fat are you? Where do you live? How many kids do you have? Where is this going to be used? What are your hobbies? What are your goals?

“We have a standardized spreadsheet with all sorts of options that will usually meet someone’s needs, but almost everyone says they’re into falconry or pottery or something, and want us to accommodate that.”

Despite the price range and delayed delivery, business is booming. So much so, in fact, that the company found itself outgrowing its cramped Van Nuys quarters and just last month relocated to a spacious new 40,000-square-foot production facility in Chatsworth.

Most of that is assembly space for the company’s FJ (Land Cruiser), CJ (Willys) and Bronco lines. There’s also ample area for ICON’s one-off Derelicts and Reformers program, which basically puts any car shell from the ’30s to the ’60s on a computer-designed modern chassis.

Last year’s sales came in at $4.7 million, and this year is on track to be a $6 million one. There are 28 ICONS in the process of being made.

The move was informed by Ward’s desire to keep his business in L.A. for sentimental, pragmatic and – believe it or not – economic reasons.

In particular, what made Ward feel good about keeping his business in the San Fernando Valley were the economic incentives that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Development Services Case Management Office helped him attain.

Although he hadn’t really considered moving too far away – “I have lived in Sherman Oaks in the same house since 1987, and have raised my family here,” Ward said – he wanted to take advantage of state enterprise zones like the one he’s operating in now.

“It was easy for us because Jonathan has such a great passion and energy about being in L.A.,” said Rogelio Navar, senior policy director for the Mayor’s Office of Business and Economic Policy.

“We were able to highlight some of the incentives that he could take advantage of, such as employee-hiring tax credits for folks in certain target groups and sales and use tax credits, for machinery and machine parts he’s going to use there.”

The approximately year-old DSCMO – which brings together representatives from seven city departments to expedite business permitting – also helped Ward get a 30 percent cut on the first year of the new facility’s Department of Water and Power bill.

It should all aid Ward to meet the demand for new ICONs by increasing his current staff of 22 and enabling the company’s growth trajectory.

Ward has had a lifelong love of working on cars, but the industry was not his first profession. He started out as a child actor, logging two decades in the industry with roles in films such as “Mac and Me” and TV series like “Charles in Charge.”

But cars were always a part of his life.

“I started restoring cars before I could drive; it’s just a passion,” Ward said. “But growing up in New York, I thought I’d never have a car. I came to California at 15 and started hearing other kids talking about getting their licenses at 15 1/2. I said, `You’re kidding me? I’m not leaving this place!”‘

Ward and wife Jamie started the company in Van Nuys as TLC in 1996, focusing on restoring Toyota Land Cruisers to like-new condition. But as demand grew and their product line expanded, they started feeling hemmed-in at their small production facility.

They were in a multiunit building, and over time had taken over more and more of the 1,200-square-foot units, connecting them together almost like a hamster cage.

“We had 10 of those units 16 years later, but we had to dodge other tenants. It was a total Habitrail – tunnels through walls to other units, three different buildings – it just sucked.”

Thus the move to Chatsworth.

It also helped that he had suppliers in the area.

Ward endeavors to buy components from as many Southern California suppliers – whom he considers some of the world’s best and most innovative – as he can.

“There’s a history of great automotive design pioneers here plus a great network of unmatched suppliers,” Ward said.

For example, Andrews Powder Coating, which applies the exclusive color finishes to ICON’s vehicle bodies and associated parts, is also based in Chatsworth.

“They are the first production body that I know that is being powder-coated 100 percent,” the paint-alternative company’s president, Scott Andrews, said of ICON. “It’s more durable and environmentally friendly than liquid paint. Jonathan likes to think outside of the box, and this is representative of that thinking.”

If you’re interested in ordering one, you can start the process at www.icon4x4.com. But be advised:

“All ICONs are brutally expensive,” Ward said with a laugh. “I can’t afford an ICON yet; I’m saving up.”

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