Lockheed Martin is gone, but this SLO manufacturing business is expanding — and hiring

A San Luis Obispo company that focuses on automation and cyber defense systems for industrial and military applications is expanding — bucking a recent trend of local manufacturing businesses closing up shop and moving elsewhere.

Trust Automation is moving into a new 96,000-square-foot building formerly occupied by Lockheed Martin at 125 Venture Drive, the company announced in a statement, more than double the space of its old location.

The company’s current space, at 44,000 square feet, is located less than a mile away at 143 Suburban Road.

“It was important for us to remain in the Central Coast region, which has nurtured our rapid growth with the best technical talent pool we could hope to find,” Ty Safreno, Trust Automation’s chief executive and technical officer, said in a statement.

Safreno told The Tribune in a phone interview that despite some departures of manufacturing companies in SLO to other states, growth in the industry is prevalent, especially in specific areas that offer specialized products, which is Trust Automation’s focus.

“There are two dozen manufacturing businesses here on the Central Coast, and we all have different customers, and we get along great, and many are growing, and need more space,” Safreno said. “We talk to each other often and share ideas because we all have different customers.”

Ty Safreno_Trust_Autmation0457[1]
Ty Safreno, co-founder and CEO of Trust Automation Inc. David Middlecamp The Tribune

Trust Automation also will be hiring, with 15 open positions now, and an anticipated 40 open positions by the end of this year, including electrical engineers and assemblers, said Rachael Hendricks, Trust Automation’s human resources manager.

The company’s new space — located near the corner of Vachell Lane and Buckley Road — will allow the company to expand its established semiconductor, defense and industrial businesses.

‘Business environment in SLO is tough’

The development of an industry expansion comes in contrast to two manufacturing businesses that have recently left SLO.

Really Right Stuff, which manufactures photography equipment, left for Utah, and military giant Lockheed Martin left under unclear circumstances with the concurrent announcement of 59 jobs cut.

Weatherby, a gun manufacturer, was another business that left the Central Coast recently, departing to Wyoming from Paso Robles, citing stricter gun laws in California.

Safreno said Central Coast manufacturing businesses that often communicate and share ideas with each other include Gatework Corporation, Zurn Wilkins, Zone 5 Technologies and Empirical Systems Aerospace, among others.

“This business environment in SLO is tough,” Safreno said. “Space and people are the two biggest challenges.”

While Safreno said multiple factors can lead to a business leaving, including corporate restructuring, and the fact that recruiters from other states frequently call in hopes to attract a successful company to move.

“Rarely does a week go by that don’t I get a call from another state to move there,” Safreno said. “They’ll cite better facilities, costs, etc. Most recently it has been Florida, and five years ago it was Arizona.”

Safreno said he’s part of the Hourglass Project, however, working to help attract and retain businesses with head-of-household jobs in SLO County, saying for some it could be a “desire to be on the Central Coast.”

New areas for engineering, R&D and manufacturing

Craig Vonilten, vice president of defense programs, said Trust Automation is roughly divided in half by its commercial and defense contracting, and “growth is happening on both sides.” The company provides design, engineering and manufacturing services.

The new facility also includes additional room for the company’s new Trust Intelligence Systems division, which focuses on cyber defense devices that use “advanced machine learning techniques and specialized sensors to detect and mitigate cyberattacks on industrial control systems.”

The new facility includes areas for engineering, research and development, quality control and manufacturing. Renovations of the facility to fit its needs are planned before the full move-in takes place, which is expected to happen by November, Vonilten said.

Vonilten said the company has the option to stay at its current location and will decide whether to do so at a later date. Trust Automation is not disclosing terms of the real estate transaction, the company said in its statement.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.