Spotlight on Ontario



From olives to automobiles, from mattresses to Mack trucks and from railroads to rain forests, the City of Ontario either grows it, makes it, cans it, ships it, sells it or serves it. Founded as a model colony in 1882, the city is poised for another century of growth and progress, combining its agricultural past with a long-standing dynamic for business and commerce.

The city that first produced the Hotpoint iron is now producing Louisville baseball bats. The city that produced the first hydroelectric dynamo in the Western United States and installed the first electric light in a home is now home to Ontario International Airport, one of the most technologically advanced airports in the world. The city that developed Armstrong roses and Babcock peaches and once produced more wine per capita than any region in the world now boasts a 2 million-square-foot mall that offers a cornucopia of products and services and attracts more visitors annually than Disneyland.

Inevitably, both national and international companies and corporations driven by the need for low-cost land and a modern and well-maintained infrastructure have wanted to hitch themselves to Ontario’s economic engine. Dr. John Husing, a leading authority on the Inland Empire, lists several factors compelling companies to relocate or establish a regional operation in Ontario. “The city of Ontario,” says Husing, “has some of the most powerful location advantages in Southern California. These include its location at the junction of the I-15 and I-10 and Route 60 freeways, the availability of space for retail, commercial and industrial expansion and major transportation facilities, including Ontario International Airport, the UPSP Railroad and Burlington-Northern and Santa Fe Railroad. As a result, Ontario is adding jobs and retail sales taxes faster than any other major Southland location.”

According to data from the California State Board of Equalization, taxable sales per capita increased from $9,396 in 1990 to $15,930 in 1997, an increase of 69.5 percent, outstripping every other Inland Empire city of more than 100,000 people. In 1998, there were 2,087 building permits issued in the city for a valuation of $301 million. Billings for utilities, another measure of economic growth, increased from $32.6 million in 1997 to $37.6 million in 1998. The city has issued 842 commercial licenses for the first nine months of fiscal year 1998-99, a pace that’s expected to exceed 1,200 business licenses for the fiscal year ending in June.

“That’s a lot of new business opening in one city,” says Ontario Revenue Director Dennis Nowicki. “I can think of a lot of cities that would like that kind of business activity.”

Ontario is well known as a distribution and transportation hub, with employment increasing from 4,939 in 1991 to 12,569 in 1997 (154.5 percent), but manufacturing employment also increased from 8,696 in 1991 to 12,717 (46.2 percent) over the same period.

“Growth in Ontario has been nothing short of phenomenal,” says Economic Development Director Mary Jane Olhasso. “We have about 12 million square feet of commercial and industrial space under development. Every day, more companies are discovering we’re a great place to do business.”

While Olhasso and the City of Ontario can offer companies site location assistance and a fast-track permit system, it’s still bottom-line economics attracting new business to the city. There is an estimated 777,000 resident/customers based within a 10-mile radius of the city, making Ontario the fastest growing retail market in the Inland Empire. Moreover, Class-A office space ranges between $1.75 and $2 a square foot, often half the price that developers are asking in nearby Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

Ontario is beating the drum for new business and companies are answering the call. Steris, an Ohio-based company that sterilizes and distributes a variety of consumer and medical products, is currently building a 160,000-square-foot facility on a 14-acre parcel southeast of the I-10 and I-15 exchange. Steris will employ 50 people at the Ontario facility when it is completed later in the year. “Land is much less expensive here,” says Jerry Dzwierzynski, director of engineering and facilities. “This is not raw land in the middle of the desert. All of the improvements and infrastructure are in place. We truck our products, so it was important to have access to all of the freeways.

“Both the city and the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP),” he adds, “were extremely helpful, listening to us and working with us and understanding our business needs.”

Louisville Bedding, a Louisville, Ky.-based company that manufactures mattresses under the Beauty Rest label, opened a new 223,000-square-foot facility in Ontario in March, employing about 120 people. “From a logistics and economic standpoint, Ontario was our best choice,” says Allen Feng, facility manager. “The transportation, the infrastructure, the cost of the building and the city’s pro-business attitude were all important factors in coming here.”

Inacom, which assembles computers for clients like IBM, Compaq and Hewlett Packard, established its regional distribution center in Ontario three years ago based largely on its proximity to Ontario International Airport and air carriers like UPS, FedEx, Skyway and Target. “The airport is growing, and that gives us more air lift out of here,” says Michael Concannon, director of distribution. “People take six months deciding what kind of computer they’re going to buy, and then when they make their decision, they want the computer the next day.”

Concannon cited other factors for coming to Ontario. “We like the workforce we get here,” says Concannon. “And we’re happy with the city. They make it easy and economical to do business here.”

Ontario, of course, doesn’t work alone in attracting business to the city. It works with a vast array of partners, from the IEEP to regional marketing forums and tourism councils. This regional, “rising-tide-lifts-all-boats” outlook has greatly contributed to the Inland Empire’s image as a strong business hub. In its annual national survey, Site Selection magazine revealed that the Inland Empire with Ontario leading the way was the seventh fastest growing region in the U.S. in 1998 in terms of new and expanded corporate facilities.

Characterizing this business activity, Husing says, “In the Inland Empire, small but feverishly growing companies have replaced the defense industry giants felled by the end of the Cold War. While Husing points up the region’s transportation advantages, he attributes the region’s success to a basic, but highly prized commodity. “We have dirt,” says Husing, “nobody else has dirt. And whoever has dirt in Southern California does well. With nowhere else to expand, companies are moving inland.”

“We understand our unique business advantages as well as our responsibilities to grow responsibly and strategically,” says Olhasso. “We began as a model colony and we will continue to grow as a model city, balancing our agricultural heritage with our innovative and business-friendly tradition.”

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