Why Do Multiple Texas Cities Want to Host the Sriracha Factory that Caused Health Problems in California?
Thu May 1, 2014 10:16 am

Sriracha is a tasty hot sauce manufactured by Huy Fong Foods that, for those with adventurous taste buds, makes everything from scrambled eggs to pizza a finer experience. But the process of manufacturing the substance has been unpopular among residents of Irwindale, California, a small town of about 1,400 just twenty miles outside of Los Angeles. And where Irwindale smells a spicy controversy, Texas cities smell spicy opportunity.

Sriracha hasn't always been based in Irwindale—the company relocated to the city in 2010, after being offered a sweetheart deal to build a $40 million factory. As the Los Angeles Times reported in November

Huy Fong Foods decided to locate its factory in Irwindale three years ago when the city offered a loan with "irresistable" terms: pay only interest for 10 years, with a balloon payment at the end.

Huy Fong took the loan and contributed $250,000 a year to the city of Irwindale each year as part of the deal, Tran said. The company then built a $40-million factory that at full capacity could generate about $300 million a year in sales, according to Tran's statements.

The problems started not long after the factory was built. It turns out that the manufacturing process on a spicy sauce (that enjoys what the Times hilariously refers to as "rock star status among condiments"—you're always on the outside looking in, mayonnaise) isn't the most pleasant thing to spend your days around. Reports soon came in about the not-unserious health problems that appeared to be popping up among local residents. 

The city filed for a lawsuit against the facility to shut down the manufacturing after reports of "burned eyes, inflamed asthma," and an entire birthday party being forced to flee indoors "after the spicy smell descended on the festivities." That sounds like a joke, but in late November, a judge granted a partial injunction

Shortly after the lawsuit against Sriracha manufacturer was filed, Denton city councilman Kevin Roden made a public bid to invite Huy Fong to relocate the facility to his fair North Texas college town

The story continued to develop in recent weeks; Irwindale City Council backed down from its aggressive stance on the substance, voting to delay a decision on whether to declare the factory a public nuisance. And, over here in Texas, San Antonio threw its hat in the "we'd like to host the Sriracha factory" ring. 

Mario Hernandez, president of San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, said the organization reached out two months ago to Tran, who indicated an expansion is more likely than a full-fledged relocation to the Alamo City, which would cost millions.

“We would welcome the opportunity on a complete relocation, but a more likely scenario is future expansion,” Hernandez said.

San Antonio is an ideal location for production of the spicy condiment because it is close to the Rio Grande Valley, a region with a large agriculture industry that could easily grow chilies for the product, Villalba said.

Because the chilies must be transported to a factory for production soon after being harvested, San Antonio, the largest city in South Texas, logistically would be a prime location for a manufacturing plant.

The excitement over the opportunity to host the Sriracha factory is all very charming. It's delicious! Texans love hot sauce! But also, the reason that the Sriracha factory is talking relocation is that the current host city is arguing in court that it lowered the quality of life so dramatically that it would rather lose 200 jobs and the tax benefits of hosting a factory that generates $300 million worth of revenue than continue to deal with the asthma/nosebleeds/sinus irritation/canceled birthday parties.

All of which suggests that, jobs and tax dollars or no jobs and tax dollars, the eagerness to take this on is a bit weird. It may be, as both Denton and San Antonio officials singing the Sriracha song claim, that those issues that caused such headaches (or nosebleeds) in Irwindale wouldn't affect Denton ("According to Roden, Denton’s industrial sites are located 'far away' from residential neighborhoods, so Huy Fong won’t need to worry about future lawsuits," our own Joseph Misulonas explained back in November) or San Antonio ("Hernandez and Villalba said they have no reservations about the fumes emitted from the factory because proper steps would be taken to ensure safety of nearby residents," reports MySA.com).

It's nice that the cities have thought about it, but it's strange to assume that officials in Irwindale didn't consider any of that when they made their bid to host the factory in recent years. It's possible, of course, that San Antonio and Denton would experience nothing more than an expanded tax base and a boost in jobs if they were to take on the task of hosting the Sriracha factory, but the eagerness of these city officials to lay claim to the plant reminds us a little bit of the Monorail episode of The Simpsons

Affection for Sriracha as a condiment not withstanding, let's just hope that if its factories do relocate or expand to Texas, the cities that host it have better luck than the people of Irwindale. 

(image via Flickr)

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