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Published February 17, 2009
Volume 17, Number 2


Pleasanton’s Economic Development Department Makes Plans to Stimulate Economic Vitality


Business may be going through a slowdown, but the City of Pleasanton is in high gear as it tackles the challenge of stimulating economic vitality in the area. Pamela Ott, who has served as the city’s Economic Development Director for the past five years, reports that the activity level in her department is higher now than when the economy was moving ahead at full steam.

On the agenda is a compelling mission. Economic vitality plays a crucial role in the community’s quality of life, from infrastructure and construction of residential and commercial properties to the availability of arts facilities, sports fields, and other amenities that attract and retain residents. “We have received a lot of feedback from residents asking us to make sure businesses remain here in town,” Ott relates. “Our job now is to see what we as a city can do to support our businesses in these tough economic times.” 

One of the first steps is renewing the focus on the core benefits of Pleasanton as a desirable and hospitable business location. “I don’t want to downplay how impacted businesses have been or may be by the current economic downturn. We recognize that this is a really serious situation,” Ott says solemnly. “But we also know that Pleasanton’s tremendous location and infrastructure are great assets. The 580/680 crossroads, proximity to San Francisco and the Central Valley, our second BART station, a skilled, talented, and highly educated workforce, and our overall quality of life—these attributes will continue to make Pleasanton a great place to do business for a long time to come.”

However, now that the market has become more competitive and the economic repercussions are spreading, new strategies are necessary. “To continue to attract and retain businesses, it is very timely to engage City Council and business-related stakeholders in conversations about how we can provide assistance,” she observes. 

With that in mind, the city is developing a new approach to incentive programs, which, Ott indicates, had not really been necessary in the past. The city does offer help to business in a number of areas--financing sewer connections for restaurants and assisting downtown merchants with facades and signage are two examples Ott mentions. But now it’s time to expand the range. “My intent, and the city manager’s, is to engage the council in a dialogue about what we can do collectively to support the business community, both downtown and more broadly throughout the city,” she affirms.

At a City Council meeting in late January, Ott presented suggestions for incentives that she had been collecting from a variety of sources over the years. Some are programs borrowed from other communities; others represent input from local commercial brokers, or feedback from downtown merchants. All have one thing in common, Ott insists: they are part of an early-stage list, which is still a work in progress, and thus subject to change.

“Not all the programs referenced are going to be put into place,” she stresses. “It is a list to share with City Council and other business-related stakeholders for feedback and direction.” Stirring up a dialogue would be “tremendous.” “If people are talking about this and come up with ideas beneficial to our business community, we’d love to hear them,” she pledges.

As for potential incentives, one possibility is some form of reimbursement program to help attract large businesses that can generate a significant amount of new sales tax revenue for the city. “The idea is that if a large user comes in and generates a specified amount of new sales tax revenue, we might rebate a portion of that back to the business,” Ott explains. “Since it’s incremental tax money, there is no new cost to the city, while the additional revenue stream would continue over a long period of time.”

While the idea has been discussed, the details still have to be fleshed out. “I can’t tell you today what that program would look like—the mechanics and parameters. We still have to sit down and work out specific criteria and thresholds so our proposal is accurate, appropriate, and viable, ensuring that the greater benefits accrue to the city, which is to say the general public.”

A sales tax rebate can be an attractive inducement for a big company, but Ott knows that the needs of small to medium operations must also be addressed. “We are making sure to support all kinds of businesses,” she affirms. One suggestion that came out of her report to the City Council is a relocation assistance program targeted at businesses, such as retail shops, restaurants, or entertainment venues, that tend to draw people downtown. “We might offer them some kind of reimbursement for many of the expenses associated with relocating into downtown--moving, transferring utilities, temporary signage, and so forth. This would generally be geared toward the smaller business,” Ott says. 

Another program would incentivize downtown property owners to rehabilitate building interiors. Downtown is still a very desirable place to locate, but some structures could benefit from updating, Ott comments. Assistance might be available in the form of rebates of fixed city fees following completion of the remodeling work. “This also provides an opportunity for us to have some interaction and work directly with property owners. We are really trying to create a package of programs to make all users part of this development process.”

While attracting new companies to locate in Pleasanton is an important part of her efforts, Ott also has an eye toward retaining the businesses that already make Pleasanton their home. “We want to support our existing enterprises so that they can achieve their greatest success.”

Noting that “in the course of our study, new ideas will invariably come up,” Ott describes several other proposals under consideration:   
  • Development Loan Program:  A loan program for structural building renovations to improve or stabilize properties, to encourage commercial real estate improvements.
  • Broker's Bonus Program: Bonuses to real estate brokers earning a professional commission for a lease or sale of commercial space in the downtown for retail, restaurant, or entertainment use.
  • Marketing Match Program: A proposal to increase assessment fee matching funds with additional funding allocated specifically to marketing the downtown district.
These programs, too, are still in the concept phase and need further development and definition before being enacted, Ott says. “The City Council has encouraged staff to be progressive in developing the types of programs that will best benefit businesses. Now they’ve directed us to talk to the downtown association, the Economic Vitality Committee, and the chamber of commerce, and then come back with some more definitive programs to consider and perhaps act on.” 

Just how are Pleasanton’s occupancy rates? The latest figures Ott has, from the third quarter of 2008, put the total office vacancy rate at 13.6 percent as compared to 10 percent for the same time in 2007.  Despite an increase in vacancy rate, she does cite several corporate moves into Hacienda, totaling over 500,000 square feet in new occupancy (although this is not a net number), as an example of the progress made in 2008.

The Economic Development Department often partners in the efforts by commercial brokers and other entities to encourage new users to move into the city. An important thing that companies interested in locating in Pleasanton should know is that Ott’s office has no size threshold for assistance. “On any given day, I can talk to a potential user with 500 employees, and perhaps an hour later to a two-employee start-up that needs 1,000 square feet. They are all equally important. We have a broad constituency, and we are committed to serve large, medium, and small businesses alike,” she says. 

The close link between quality of life and business success is always top of mind. “A strong business community provides property taxes, sales tax revenues, etc., to city’s general fund, which in turn supports the programs and amenities our residents want,” she observes, concluding, “This very symbiotic relationship drives everything we do.”  

To contact Ott with questions or suggestions, email POtt@ci.pleasanton.ca.us


Pleasanton’s Economic Vitality Committee
The role of Pleasanton’s Economic Vitality Committee (EVC) is to assess the city’s business climate, review issues that may impact it, and offer suggestions and recommendations to the City Council in order to maintain a strong local economy. Appointed by the City Council, EVC members represent diverse business segments—from residential home building to IT to government and the non-profit community— and possess good economic vitality information.

“The Economic Vitality Committee is a tremendous resource for both the City Council and the community. The members bring a breadth of knowledge and perspectives to the table, allowing them to make thoughtful and well-formulated recommendations focused on maintaining Pleasanton’s highly-valued quality of life,” says Economic Development Director Pamela Ott. She also mentions that there are several vacancies on the 24-member committee, encouraging interested applicants in specialty fields like biomedical, environmental, and financial services to contact her. 

The EVC meets regularly to advance the implementation of the city’s Economic Development Strategic Plan, which was commissioned in order to support Pleasanton’s competitive advantages, mitigate its weaknesses, and link the goals of ongoing economic development to the goals of the General Plan. The most recent version of the city’s Economic Development Strategic Plan identifies six key goals that continue to receive ongoing attention:
Maintain and Expand Pleasanton’s Economy.
Maintain and Enhance Pleasanton’s Fiscal Revenues. 
Promote Tourism, Cultural and Recreational Activities. 
Strengthen Pleasanton’s Retail and Entertainment Sector. 
Increase Housing Opportunities for Pleasanton’s Workforce and Residents.
Integrate Economic Development, Land Use and Transportation Decisions to Create A Sustainable City.

Find a copy of the plan at http://www.ci.pleasanton.ca.us/pdf/ed-strategic-plan-fin-070206.pdf.

 

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