Price Pump to leave Sonoma for Idaho

Price Pump has grown and thrived in Sonoma for 70 years, but now they're pulling up pipe and headed to Idaho, a move Bob Piazza calls 'traumatic.'|

It’s the end of an era. Price Pump has grown and thrived in Sonoma for 70 years. But before the end of this year, the manufacturer of high-tech pumps will pull up stakes and move its headquarters – lock, stock and pump – to Boise, Idaho.

“It has simply become too difficult and too costly to run a manufacturing business in Sonoma Valley,” said Price Pump President Bob Piazza.

“To pick up and move is traumatic,” he acknowledged. “Some of our employees have worked here for 45 years.

Piazza, 74, shares the emotions of his employees. He has lived in California his whole life and he will also move with his wife of 53 years to Idaho.

“I don’t love change,” he said, “But the way things are going, we don’t have a choice.”

Price Pump was founded in 1932 by E. L. Price in Emeryville. During the 1930s and 1940s its focus was on the manufacture of agricultural pumps. The company relocated to Sonoma in 1948. Jack Price, the son of E.L Price, headed the firm during the 1950s. When Leon J. Paul acquired Price Pump in 1962, he retained the Price brand name because it had a good reputation in the business.

By 1979, Price Pump Company had outgrown its 3,600-square-foot rented space on Fourth Street East and moved to a 10,000-square-foot facility on Eighth Street East. In 1989, the company constructed a 32,000-square-foot facility two miles further down Eighth Street East at 1 Pump Way, where it still operates today. For now.

In 1992, Piazza was recruited to head up the company, bringing with him 24 years of pump experience in marketing, operations, engineering and sales.

So, why Boise?

Piazza is one of three shareholders who own the business, and one of his partners is based in Boise, a location that offers a much lower cost of doing business.

Piazza said that employee reaction to the move, including his own, has gone through stages.

“First it was shock… then everybody started getting interested in learning more about Boise,” he said. “Those that haven’t decided or aren’t moving are pretty quiet… and are thinking about the future here.”

For Quality Assurance Technician Ryan Daley, the news felt like déjà vu.

“When the news broke during a meeting, I was shocked that this is happening to me again,” he said. “I had lost a good job in Sonoma around 2007 due to a manufacturer moving outside of the state”

Piazza offered all employees an all-expenses paid trip with their families to Boise to see the area. A dozen employees have taken him up on the offer and the vast majority came back excited to move.

Daley and his wife visited Boise and the surrounding areas in March.

“We both agreed that the Boise area would be a fantastic place to raise our young family and keep the American dream alive,” he said. “Our quality of life will improve. We will surely miss the beauty, community, friends and mostly family here in Sonoma. I have lived most of my four decades in the Sonoma Valley, but my wife and I are ready for a new adventure.”

Piazza said it turned out to be hard to predict who would be excited to move and who wouldn’t.

One of his employees is 66 years old and has never worked anyplace other than Price Pump.

“When he said he would move with us, I was surprised,” said Piazza. “But he explained to me that he had planned to work until 70 and it would be hard to get a different job now, but even more… he realized that when he ran the numbers, he wouldn’t even be able to retire in Sonoma at 70.”

Another employee lost his house during the 2009 recession and he’s moving because, he told Piazza, it will be give him a chance to be a homeowner again.

“He gets to keep the same pay, move someplace less expensive and he’ll get a moving allowance and be able to buy a house,” said Piazza.

Piazza’s employees have been pleased to find that they can buy a house in the Boise area that is comparable to their home in Sonoma for less half the cost.

For those who aren’t moving, Piazza has offered a 10 percent bonus to stay on until the end. He has reached out to both Nelson Staffing and Bolt Staffing to help those employees with next steps.

“One company has already reached out to us and they’re interested in hiring all of them,” he said.

Piazza’s long litany of complaints about the business climate in Sonoma center around hiring, the cost of living in California, taxation and labor laws. He has been getting more and more frustrated with “over-regulation” by the county and state government.

“Over the last few years, I found that I can’t ignore all the good reasons to move any longer,” he said. “We’re certainly not the only local manufacturing company that has fled the area.

“Our competitors are now based in Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana and overseas,” he said. “Large corporations don’t want to do business here.”

He cited the example of a dishwasher manufacturing company. Stero, that was located for years on the corner of Frates Road and Highway 116 in Petaluma.

“They sold to ITW (Illinois Tool Works) and immediately moved the company to Pennsylvania and sold the building,” he said.

“I knew that I would either need to move the business or sell it,” said Piazza. “If I sold, I realized the new owners would face the same challenges and they also end up moving the business and selling the building.”

He said that paying entry level workers, even high school students in summer jobs, at least $15 an hour is a challenge. While Price Pump is outside the city limits, Piazza needs to match offers being made for jobs inside the city limits.

Meanwhile, he agrees that even $15 isn’t a living wage in Sonoma.

“It’s impossible to hire here as workers can’t afford to live here,” he said.

Price Pump owns its building at 21775 Eighth St. E., and it will go up for sale later this year. Piazza feels confident it will sell quickly.

“We’ve already heard from three folks who are interested,” he said. “Properties on Eighth Street East are at a premium and there isn’t much available like this.”

Piazza was recently invited to speak to the Sonoma County Taxpayers Association about the Price Pump move.

The theme of Piazza’s remarks?

“The government has all these progressive ideas but those measures have consequences… and the consequence here is us moving to Idaho,” he said.

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