Chico’s Business Roller Coaster of 2010

Looking over 2010, it was a roller coaster year for business

In 2010, business in Butte County was certainly a mixed bag of good and bad news, but this economy has certainly made progress difficult.

Here’s a partial list of those ups and downs.

The world of finance and banking were rough seas.

In the spring, Tri Counties Bank bought insolvent Granite Community Bank, near Sacramento, after federal regulators closed it. That added three Sacramento branches and a Paradise loan center to the Chico-based bank system, which now stands at 61 stand-alone and in-store branches, according to its website.

On the other hand, it was a sad year for also-local Butte Community Bank, which first got a federal warning to bolster its capital, and then found itself closed by regulators and sold to international Rabobank.

As far as we know, most of the employees retained their jobs, other than the top echelon.

Local employment took a hit when Aero Union’s new leadership decided it would relocate the whole operation to Sacramento. However, only some of the Chico work force would move.

Primarily converting military aircraft into aerial firefighters, Aero Union employed about 100 and has been a huge pillar in the local manufacturing economy, not to mention an airport tenant of the city’s. Two divisions left last year, and another division will leave by summer.

The job drain news continued. Smucker’s Quality Beverages, which produces juices in a south Chico plant, announced about 25 jobs would be moving to the company’s Ohio division in 2011.

There was a definite scare when Chico Mall’s parent, General Growth Properties, filed for bankruptcy, and the mall was later identified as a “nonperforming” property. However, GGP popped out of bankruptcy, and Chico Mall is chugging along.

In June, local longtime businessman Larry Juanarena died. Juanarena and wife Pat had been known for Pat and Larry’s Steakhouse in south Chico and later for a restaurant in Willows. But Juanarena’s legacy is about his unwavering dedication to America’s military personnel. If there was a call for help, Juanarena was there for the troops.

On the up side, there was hope for new jobs as well. Transfer Flow Inc., which manufactures after-market gas tanks in an airport facility, created a new pollution-quelling filter that means older farm and truck engines can be retrofitted rather than trashed. That’s still going through some regulatory hoops, but the company hopes to be ramping up by the end of this year, creating at least 30 new jobs.

There were new faces in old spaces. Staples office supply company opened up in what was the former Linens ‘n’ Things. Creative Connection printing business occupied the former Chico Grocery Outlet. Cathy’s Sewing Machine and Vacuums moved into the gaping McMahan’s Furniture store.

A new center for several local veterinarian businesses is going up on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway that will add new services for pet owners this year.

Then there’s the Ashley Furniture story, which was a head-shaker. Scores of customers who had bought furniture didn’t get their orders. Finally, the parent company seized the franchise, made good on the orders over a length of time, and then closed shop. It wasn’t long before Yuba City-based Evans Furniture took the space.

There were a lot of surprises this year, but in the world of business, everything’s kept under wraps until the last moment.

Even employees were surprised when Auctiva was sold to a Chinese company. The Chico-born company creates computer programs and tools to help customers who sell via online auctions like eBay. Executives on both sides said life will be the same for the company.

Surprises continued at the Downtown Chico Business Association, when 13-year executive Katrina Davis-Woodcox gave notice. In a calling close to her heart, she left to work at a local company that helps adults with disabilities. But weeks later, her assistant and interim director Becky Watner gave her notice, saying that demands from her newly expanded family and the executive post wouldn’t mesh.

There were good surprises, too. Fire-damaged Mr. Pickle’s and Tres Hombres restaurants reopened, with the latter unveiling its long-discussed sidewalk cafe.

And certainly the year ended well with Feather Falls Casino’s unveiling of a new brewery, restaurant and showroom in Oroville. The casino’s original estimate of about 30 new jobs turned out to be closer to 75.

Likely, 2011 will inch forward in a similar fashion, but I’m hoping for job growth that will get us back to where we used to be.