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Monday, January 14, 2013, 7:00 am

Factory Pipe starts $6 million Masonite site expansion

Sales doubled in three years

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    Masonite plant in Ukiah in 2008

    Former Masonite Corp. plant along Highway 101 in Ukiah, as seen in 2008. Factory purchased 10 acres of the plant that includes two buildings.

    Factory PipeUKIAH — New life for the former Masonite plant in north Ukiah as a home for multiple manufacturers began early this month as a growing local maker of exhaust systems for personal watercraft and snowmobiles begins a $6 million project this year to triple the size of its production plant.

    As Mendocino Industrial Park, LLC, Factory Pipe owner and President Ross Liberty on Dec. 21 purchased about 10 acres of land with 135,000 square feet in two existing buildings from a group of investors that had been trying for several years to build a regional retail center then mixed-use development called Mendocino Crossings.

    The purchase price was around $3 million, and about that much is expected be spent on tenant improvements in coming months to meet a planned move-in timeframe of late October or early November. Cleanup work at the site began this month. County permits are being sought for $500,000 in electrical upgrades, new roofs and building office space.

    Factory Pipe (707-463-1322, factorypipe.com) employs 43 in the 42,000-square-foot plant it has occupied for 22 years at 150 Parducci Rd. Sales doubled to $9 million in 2011 from 2009 and are projected to do so again in the next two to three years, according to Mr. Liberty, 55. The company was targeting sales of more than $10 million last year.

    “Right now, our production capacity is the limit of our sales,” he said. “If we could make more, we could sell more.”

    Started when Mr. Liberty was in the seventh grade, Factory Pipe’s claim to fame is its high-performance exhaust systems for small engines. The company makes aftermarket upgrades and parts for vehicle manufacturers.

    Polaris Industries is the biggest customer. Factory Pipe is the sole supplier of exhaust systems for snowmobiles, which make up about one-fifth of Polaris sales. Factory Pipe has expanded into making parts for Polaris’ all-terrain and utility vehicles, which account for the bulk of that company’s personal-vehicle sales.

    Factory Pipe production workers are welders, but their job these days is checking welds and adjusting the robotic welders, according to Mr. Liberty. Production demands and higher cost of living in California have made such automation essential to compete with manufacturers outside the state and country, he said.

    Masonite Corp. was Ukiah’s largest employer before it shut the plant down in 2001. An investor group led by shopping center builder Developers Diversified Realty acquired part of the property and tried to build 800,000 square feet on 80 acres. Residents voted down the plan, and 2011 Ukiah Valley Area Plan retained industrial zoning for the property.

    The site was Mr. Liberty’s first expansion choice, but he said the owners weren’t interested in selling land a year ago. Development consultant Tony Shaw, who had been county economic development director, helped him make connections with the ownership and work out a deal over the past six months.

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