CERRITOS, Calif.—California is a mixture of dualities, be it from a labor pool standpoint, the markets the rubber product makers serve or the technology level of its firms.
“You have access to untrained as we well as high-tech labor,” said Tom Martin, R.D. Abbott Co. Inc. vice president of operations. “We always have one of the highest workers compensation and minimum wage requirements. You have access to a lot of employees, but it costs more for those employees.”
He added that the state's location makes it an easy place to export goods to foreign markets, but likewise that makes certain California firms face fierce foreign competition.
“Lower-tech processes and materials flood California before they flood anywhere else,” Martin said. “What that's caused a lot of California companies to do is become more high tech.”
While tires and automotive production (along with its supply base) aren't present in California, the rubber firms there support innovative markets such as medical, aerospace and other high-tech industries that demand the most stringent quality from vendors.
But on the flip side, California is the largest agricultural and dairy state, according to R.D. Abbott President Keith Thomas. “So for the rubber industry, we have a tremendous industry around supporting the processing of food,” he said.
R.D. Abbott, in fact, sells materials used in products that resemble fingers and are used to pick such produce as potatoes, tomatoes and watermelons.
Although most old-time rubber shops have closed down or moved out, Thomas said a few remain. “”If you want to see a rubber company that looks like the turn of the century image of a dirty, ugly rubber shop, I can bring you to several within a few miles of here,” he said.
Of the “dirty black rubber” shops that remain, he said they normally fall into two categories. One is companies providing a legacy product for a niche market. “They're locked in. It's not worth the downstream folks shopping it,” Thomas said.
The other category is for products that may not be high-tech, such as a plumbing plunger, but where the customer wants to be able to offer an American-made product. “There are companies that are willing to buy ‘Made in the USA' with a certain name on it that has been recognized for many years,” he said.
And while other states spend a lot to lure manufacturing, that doesn't seem to be the case in California. “The want service industries, such as software,” Martin said. “That's all they want. A lot of money in a small office.”
Chris Mazelin, marketing manager for Specialty Silicone Fabricators Inc. said his firm had benefited for a short period from a regional economic development program for hiring employees or adding capital equipment, but the funds dried up.
William Krames, president and CEO of Santa Fe Rubber Products Inc., said sometimes it depends on local government. “You can't get into Rancho Cucamonga if you're black and dirty,” he said. “If you're belching carbon black, forget it. They don't want it.”
This story came from an industry roundtable that Rubber & Plastics News hosted at R.D. Abbott Co. Inc.'s headquarters in Cerritos, Calif. To see complete coverage, including more videos, stories, exclusive online content and a photo gallery, go to www.rubbernews.com/California.