Frustrated by what it considers local indifference, Puyallup-based RODI Power Systems has announced it will locate its production facility in Abbeville, La.

“There were several sites we were seriously looking at,” RODI founder and CEO Byron Spain says of the Pierce County market. Instead, the company opted to buy a 159,200-square-foot factory in Louisiana.

RODI, which designs diesel engines, already has a 50,000-square-foot facility in Puyallup that houses a testing laboratory and offices.

“This is a big milestone for us,” Spain proclaims. “When we founded this company in 1994,” he says, “we could only imagine the day when we would walk into our own modern production plant.”

Spain says RODI considered at least one production site in Sumner but ruled it out because it lacked the necessary transportation access. Closer to home, he says, he found the climate unattractive.

“We have a rather hostile city government,” says Spain, who has lived in Puyallup for 40 years. He says his relations with the county aren’t much warmer and contends that when it comes to business, the county is guilty of benign neglect.

In Louisiana, Spain found officials eager to attract business and a good deal on a vacant plant.

It’s economics,” Spain says of the reasons behind the decision to locate his firm’s production facility in Louisiana, “and a lot of support.”

Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, for instance, pledged state funds to build a new electrical substation near the plant, a former Fruit of the Loom production center. That company did not use much electricity to make clothing, but RODI will to make diesel engines, explains Spain.

Louisiana offered a refund on sales taxes for provisions RODI buys locally. Spain also observes that the region where the plant is located has been declared a depressed area, which means RODI won’t pay property taxes for the foreseeable future. Spain estimates he would have paid $30,000 a year in property taxes for a similar plant in Pierce County.

Spain recalls that when he asked about the possibility of a traffic light in the vicinity of RODI’s new plant, Abbeville officials promptly installed one.

His Puyallup site has offices in three construction trailers. When he looked into building a permanent office, the City told him a traffic signal would be needed. A study was required at a cost of $10,000. Spain decided to stay in the trailer.

Puyallup Traffic Engineer Marlene Ford notes the City does not set this amount. “The traffic engineer hired by the developer charges the fee,” she notes.

“We were supportive of them doing the expansion,” Puyallup Community Development Director Tom Utterback says of RODI.

“The city can not give away any public money to private interests,” Utterback explains. “Some states in the Deep South don’t have these state laws.”

Puyallup is not anti-business, according to Utterback. “If you drive down Valley Avenue you will see lots of development.”

Spain says he got quite a deal. The plant cost $9.2 million to build in 1991 and recently was appraised at $6 million. RODI paid $2.8 million for it.

“Right now there are a lot of vacant factories in Louisiana,” Spain says. He attributes the hard times to the decline of the petroleum industry. He says he’s confident RODI will be able to find plenty of workers eager for jobs.

“They will be extremely well-paying jobs,” he concludes.

By John Larson, Business Examiner staff