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Wednesday, Apr 23 2014 06:51 PM

Kern County hot on the Sriracha trail

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County would love to lure Huy Fong Foods, the maker of popular Sriracha hot sauce, to Kern County if the embattled business moves from its current location in Irwindale.

Cheryl Scott, vice-president of the Kern Economic Development Corporation, said the group has contacted Huy Fong and added its name to a long list of other suitors hot to land the business.

"We have spoken with a representative there and put our name out there. No proposals have been developed," she said.

The city of Irwindale has fought with Huy Fong over the smell of the hot chili sauce that comes from the factory, which opened there in 2012. The city council was scheduled to vote Wednesday night on a resolution declaring the plant's peppery fumes a public nuisance.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported Huy Fong's chief executive David Tran invited potential suitors to visit his factory. States including Alabama, Louisiana, Kansas, Arizona and New Mexico, among others, already have extended a welcoming hand to Tran and his company, according to the Times.

Now Kern County is jumping on-board.

"We would very much like to keep them in California. It would be silly to let them leave the state," Scott said.

The way Scott sees it, Kern County has a lot to offer Huy Fong, which has 70 full-time employees and 200 seasonal workers, and produces more than 20 million bottles of hot sauce annually.

For one, the county sits at the hub of major east-west and north-south rail and vehicle transit routes. Secondly, it has a pro-business attitude.

"When Kern County is working with a business we can get it permitted and up and running faster than almost anywhere else in California," she said. "Those reasons are at the top of the list of why the Caterpillars of the country come here." Scott was referring to Caterpillar Inc.'s opening last year of its 46-acre, $50 million parts distribution center near the foot of the Grapevine.

And Kern has another advantage Scott said she wasn't aware of: Some of the chiles that go into Sriracha and other Huy Fong products are grown here in Kern County.

Jim Roberts, chief operating officer for Underwood Ranches that farms chiles on 600 acres in Kern County, said some are grown specifically for Huy Fong Foods.

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