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Vans Chooses Vista for New Plant Providing 600 Jobs : Manufacturing: Fast-growing maker of sneakers favored by surfers, skateboarders rejected sites in Texas, Arizona, Mexico. Plant in Orange won't be affected.


VISTA, Calif. — Vans Inc., the Orange-based manufacturer of sneakers that are popular among surfers and skateboarders, announced Thursday that it will open a highly automated, 90,000-square-foot plant in Vista that will employ 600. Company officials said Thursday that none of the company's 1,800 jobs in Orange are threatened by the expansion.

Maker of 30 models of multicolored suede and canvas tennis shoes, Vans is a fast-growing company that has been looking for additional factory space since last year. A publicly held company, Vans expects sales for the fiscal year ending May 31 to exceed $90 million, or more than double its $40 million sales in 1988.

Vista, in northern San Diego County, was selected over 30 other locations, including sites in Texas, Arizona and Mexico, said Jerry Gross, vice president of corporate development. The plant, to be operational by September, is to include $5 million worth of manufacturing equipment and function 24 hours a day, the company said in a statement.

"We were really impressed with the environment, energy and desire of Vista to bring our facility on line as soon as possible," Gross said. Vista will also work with the company to develop mass transit routes for plant workers, Gross added.

The company had threatened to locate its new plant out of state because of what executives described as California's unfriendly business climate and high worker compensation insurance costs.

In the end, the company opted for Vista because of the area's large labor pool and its proximity to Vans' Orange facility, which will remain the corporate headquarters. The company decided against Mexico because it wanted to maintain its "Made in the USA" status, Gross said.

The company has a high quotient of Latino and immigrant workers, often employing several members of the same family. Vans typically does not advertise for workers and prefers to hire by word of mouth.

Vans tennis shoes, which are sold under the Vans trademark at 4,800 outlets that include 70 Southern California stores operated by the company, sell for $25 to $40 a pair.

Initially, Vans will lease a plant located on Park Center Drive in Vista. However, the sportswear company has an option to buy the property with municipal bond financing assistance, Vista redevelopment director Bob Campbell said Thursday.

Founded in 1966 as Van Doren Rubber, the company's tennis shoes were cult favorites among surfers and skateboarders when the 1982 film "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," featuring Sean Penn, catapulted the sneakers into the public eye.

A mass production company that makes up to 120,000 pairs of shoes a week at its Orange facility, the company also takes orders for custom-designed sneakers, which it fills in 19 working days or less, Gross said. Capacity at the new Vista plant will be 40,000 shoes per week, Campbell said.

Vans went public in August, raising $40 million in an initial public stock offering. In 1988, the company's management acquired the company in a leveraged buyout financed by the venture capital firm McCown De Leeuw & Co. of Menlo Park. That firm is still Vans' leading shareholder, with a 20% stake.

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