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The Buck Stopped Here

If you think my previous post was alarmist, go read this amazing story of how Buck Knives was forced out of California. This is from the May 2006 edition of Inc. Magazine and it’s a heartbreaking story (if you’re involved in California economic development).

At first, it seemed inconceivable. Buck Knives had deep roots in El Cajon. The average tenure of its employees was 15 years. Churches held services in the company cafeteria. Girl Scout troops used the training rooms for cookie distribution. Both CJ and Chuck had been born and raised in the area. Their wives, their children, their friends, their careers–their whole lives were based there. Outside the factory stood a massive boulder inlaid with a brass plaque dedicated to CJ’s grandfather, Al Buck. ‘As this rock stands immovable and solid,’ the inscription read, ‘Al was our rock in hard times and in good times.’ Were they really going to move that rock? On the other hand, deep roots don’t mean much if you go out of business.

California officials should pay close attention to this paragraph:

The news that Buck might move to Idaho also sent a chill through public officials in San Diego. To encourage Buck to stay, the city assembled what it dubbed the “Red Team,” including U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter, State Assemblyman Jay LaSuer, and County Supervisor Dianne Jacob. They suggested that Buck shift production to evening hours when electricity was cheaper, or move the factory across town to an enterprise zone. “We did everything we possibly could,” says Mark Lewis, the mayor of El Cajon. Unfortunately, the Red Team couldn’t solve Buck’s fundamental problems. The wild fluctuations in electricity rates had subsided, but rates were still high–and now workers’ compensation was beginning to spiral out of control. For Buck, the Red Team came a day late and a dollar short. “I don’t mean to belittle them, but it was meaningless,” says CJ. “Their hearts were in the right place, but they didn’t have the resources.”

And then the happy ending:

Despite the hiccups, CJ is ecstatic, almost evangelical, about the move. “It’s delivered everything we hoped,” he says. Electric bills are roughly 30 percent what they would have been if Buck had stayed in California; workers’ comp 10 percent; and labor costs 75 percent. The move reduced overhead and freed up capital for investment and product development. “It has reinvigorated this company, from the engineers to the factory floor,” he says. “I could not be happier to be here. We’re excited. We’re kicking butt. It’s reanimated a sense of pride in the company.”

And, of course, it’s gorgeous there.

Update: I didn’t realize until I saw the magazine at the airport that this was the cover story.

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