The rubber industry's landscape in California has changed greatly over the years. Decades back, the state was home to a large contingent of rubber enterprises, from tire manufacturers to automotive goods suppliers, material suppliers, a network of tooling firms and everything in between.
Now, tire factories are long gone, along with automotive assembly and the firms set up primarily to supply those car makers. Regulations and other factors led to the demise of much of the Northern California rubber industry. A handful of companies remain, but the Northern California Rubber Group disbanded years ago.
To think the rubber industry has left the Golden State, however, is a wrong assumption. Particularly around the Los Angeles basin, there remains a vibrant, healthy and particularly tight-knit rubber community. With production of most of the commodity goods moved elsewhere, a good percentage of the remaining rubber firms concentrate on high-technology areas that show consistent growth, such as medical, aerospace and agriculture.
It's true that the companies in the state face a number of hurdles as they try to set their businesses up for future success. The regulatory climate is well documented. The state government largely is viewed as unfriendly to manufacturers. And the environmental community has put up roadblocks that can be difficult to navigate.
There's another side to the story, however. California has a culture of innovation that the rubber companies can tap into. The state boasts a large pool of untrained workers, balanced by a higher education system that feeds the work force with a large pool of talented technical people. It remains the largest manufacturing state in the nation, with high growth potential.
Even the regulations themselves have an upside. To deal with these, the manufacturers believe it forces them to improve their operations and processes so they match or exceed anything available elsewhere.
Those who have been immersed in the California rubber industry for years, in fact, say they aren't shocked by new regulatory changes. They instead view them in an evolutionary manner and know that when the regulations migrate elsewhere, they will have a leg up on the competition.
Oh yes, and they don't mind the weather, either.