General Dynamics plans big Healdsburg expansion

[caption id="attachment_51555" align="alignright" width="405" caption="General Dynamics plans to spend $1 million preparing this new Healdsburg location for production. (Credit: Healdsburg Sotheby's International Realty)"][/caption]

HEALDSBURG -- General Dynamics plans to nearly double the size of its Healdsburg Operations Facility this summer to accommodate rapidly growing workforce and production needs.

It leased 30,000 square feet at 190 Foss Creek Circle and is accepting contractor bids for converting the 20,000 square feet of storage space for manufacturing, half of which will be a class 100,000 clean room, and the rest will become offices, according to General Manager Rich Schroeder. The goal is to start moving in equipment and initially 50 personnel by the end of June. The anticipated cost of improvements is $1 million.

"We've doubled in size in the past year, and we can't fit in the existing building anymore," Mr. Schroeder said.

The workforce in the 37,000-square-foot facility at 511 Grove St. has increased from 75 to 150, and now the employees are working in hallways and conference rooms, he said. He's planning to hire another 40 by year-end.

The Healdsburg facility ( is part of the Florida-based General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems business unit, which is in the Combat Systems Group of Virginia-based General Dynamics.

Part of what's driving growth is a recent deal to design and produce very small, lightweight electromagnetic control actuators on next-generation ship-based missiles that slam into and disable incoming short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles, according to Mr. Schroeder. The contract, announced Jan. 30, is for actuators on Aerojet’s 10-nozzle Throttleable Divert and Attitude Control System on the Block IIA upgrade to the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor.

Late last year, the Missile Defense Agency awarded Arizona-based Raytheon Co. a $241 million contract modification to continue design and development of the longer-range, more advanced IIA version of the SM-3, a joint project of the U.S. and Japan. The new version is set to enter service in 2018.

General Dynamics was involved in design and manufacturing for a current version of the interceptor.

The Healdsburg expansion allows the operation to move manufacturing into its own space, and devote the existing building to design and prototyping, according to Mr. Schroeder. The SM-3 project will remain in the existing building.

"There have been challenges both in space, culture and environment to have R&D and production in the same building," Mr. Schroeder said. "We will be benefit to have them separated but not separated too far."

The Healdsburg expansion to support the growing clout of the team's products in the industry is a testament to a business model for high-precision electric motors developed over the past few decades, he said.

"Under Versatron and Wescam, we never had the resources to take it to next level. We always had the technology," Mr. Schroeder said.

Versatron started in Healdsburg in the late 1970s and spawned three high-tech spinoffs. Versatron was acquired in 1995 by Canada-based Wescam, which later spun off the electric motor division as Versatron, and Primex Technologies acquired it in 1999. General Dynamics acquired Primex two years later. Versatron founders started Sonoma Design Group by Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport in 2002, and it was later acquired by L-3, which also acquired Wescam. Both operations were consolidated in the airport business park offices in 2005, taking 130 jobs from Healdsburg.

Meanwhile, the continuation of Versatron under General Dynamics has been growing to fill that gap. The operation occupied only 22,000 square feet of the Grove Street building when it moved in a dozen years ago. Four years ago and as many expansions later, the business filled the building and now needs a number of storage facilities around town.

In the latest lease deal, Eric Drew and Dana Wood of Healdsburg Sotheby's International Realty represented 190 Foss Creek owners Mark Davis, Bob Fraser and Kelly McManus. Ann Barrett of CBRE Boston represented General Dynamics.

The General Dynamics lease fills space in the 53,000-square-foot Pointe at Foss Creek building left vacant when the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians and the tribe's River Rock Casino administrative offices relocated to the Geyserville establishment. The other major tenant is the U.S. Postal Service. Only 4,600 square feet remain available, according to Mr. Drew.

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