Just as the balmy days at the end of January presaged the arrival of spring, harbingers of a potential economic rebound are cropping up in Pleasanton.
Asked about the state of business in Pleasanton, Economic Development Director Pamela Ott replies, "It's faring well, given the current conditions." She admits it could be better, but small signs of improvement are beginning to surface. "We know our businesses, especially the retail sector, have had a difficult time over the last couple of years," she relates, "but we are starting to see more movement out in the market, a sign to us that people are interested in opening a business or expanding. They are out looking at space or contacting the City for assistance. We are making forward progress, and that is exciting for us."
Economic vitality plays a crucial role in the community's quality of life, providing the support for amenities as diverse as infrastructure and the construction of residential and commercial properties to the availability of arts facilities, sports fields, and youth and senior programs - all attributes that attract and retain residents and inspire civic pride.
"In Pleasanton we have always been particularly focused on economic development," Ott continues. "We know it requires continual care and effort to make sure the businesses that are already here and those wanting to relocate are given the opportunities they need to be successful."
The economic downturn has heightened that awareness and continues to spur the City forward in its efforts to foster not only a healthy business climate but one that is very diverse. "That fact what we are not focused on one industry sector serves us well when the economy gets difficult-think back to the dot.com era. It is strategic to have a breadth of business types, so we tend to be able to weather the storm as well as or a bit better than other areas."
As confirmation, Ott points out that there have been "some notable relocations to Pleasanton, and we are very appreciative." The City's solid business infrastructure, as exemplified by Hacienda, continues to be a major draw, attracting companies like Xradia, which settled into new quarters in the park last fall ( see NETWORK, November 2010 ), and the new 24 Hour Fitness Super Sport Club ( NETWORK, August 2010 ), which opened in December. While a makeover of an existing building, not new construction, it was still a "significant" project, she notes, also mentioning the completion of Oracle's new building and parking garage and Kaiser's recent facilities upgrades as examples of other activity in the built environment.
On the horizon is an expansion of State Compensation Insurance Fund, following its recent decision to leave San Francisco. According to news reports Ott mentions, State Fund's anticipated move to Pleasanton and Vacaville would generate a gain of more than 600 workers for both cities.
The south side of the City is seeing another kind of new construction. A new shopping center, Pleasanton Gateway, will soon rise on an 11-acre retail site at the intersection of Bernal and Valley roads, tucked next to I-680. Ground-breaking for the anchor tenant, a new Safeway lifestyle store, is slated for mid-February, and "residents are very excited," Ott reports.
The prospect of the Staples Ranch development is also eagerly anticipated. According to Ott, "The Staples Ranch project located at I-580 and El Charro Road is exciting not only because of the size of the project - 124-acres annexed in to the City of Pleasanton - but also for what it adds to the community including a senior living community, a retail center, parks, and the future relocation of the Pleasanton Auto Mall, adding to the economic vitality of northeast Pleasanton."
Pleasanton has been working hard at both business retention and attraction efforts through incentive and assistance programs. The Economic Development Department is now collaborating with the City's Economic Vitality Committee (EVC) to put the various aid initiatives together in a single packet of material so companies interested in starting up, expanding, or relocating here will be welcomed with a coordinated approach. The information packet will be shared with related entities that field inquiries from potential new arrivals- the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Association, Hacienda Owners Association, and commercial real estate brokers.
The City's brand-new sewer capacity allocation program, which provides a way to lower a business's initial cash outlay, is one initiative that the packet will present. "When we constructed several civic facilities, we bought more capacity from the Dublin-San Ramon Services District than we are using or need," explains Ott. "The City is going to allocate that excess to businesses looking to expand or to locate in Pleasanton." The program creates a pool and sets some criteria for apportioning capacity. "We recognize that when starting or expanding a business there is significant expense. We can allocate capacity to a business to use for up to five years, up to 25 percent of the capacity needed for an individual project, reducing some of those upfront start-up costs."
Capacity assistance is also paired with a sewer connection financing program already in place. Sewer connection fees can be a significant part of the permitting cost of opening a business, Ott comments, so by helping to defer some of those costs upfront, "we allow business to spend its money on other aspects of the project." This plan allows users to make a 20 percent down payment, with the remaining amount financed over time. Ott notes that the program is apt to benefit significant water users: not just restaurants, but operations like beauty and nail salons, barbers, gyms, and even medical users, such as doctors' and dental offices, which tend to be higher water users compared to office or retail.
In yet another move to further economic development, last year the City implemented a program of phased permitting for larger construction projects, so the payment of fees can be spread out across various milestones, much like an installment plan. A certain amount would be due when the site is graded; another when the utilities are undergrounded; and yet another at the start of site improvements. "The fees are still being paid, but in stages to match the project progress, making for better cash flow for the applicant," Ott says.
Downtown Pleasanton is not only charming; it is an important economic ecosystem. Several City programs have been developed specifically to support downtown business activity.
The Downtown Design Assistance loan program makes funds available for lending to either business or property owners so they can make exterior updates to their buildings - painting, putting up awnings or signage, window redesign, and similar improvements. Although this program is not new, it has not been heavily publicized. "We've made some minor adjustments, and are now promoting it to our businesses," Ott relates.
The recently opened Firehouse Arts Center has proved to be a stimulus of its own. In just a few months the facility has succeeded in attracting many more visitors to the area, both day and night. The City is collaborating with the Downtown Association to link the Center and local businesses in joint promotions, for example, special offers like a meal discount or free dessert, so Firehouse patrons become business patrons as well.
Ott is looking forward to another new attraction, the 234 Main Street property at the southern end of Downtown. Vacant for more than a year, the building was recently sold to the company that successfully redeveloped the plaza at the corner of Main and Angela streets. "They certainly understand our market and know what our residents want," she comments, noting that the plans for the update are now in the approval process.
Additional promotion for merchants throughout the City appeared in the form of last fall's Shop Around Pleasanton, a "very successful" social media initiative that attracted over 800 friends to the campaign's Facebook page in an effort to encourage local holiday shopping. Ott reports that the EVC is currently considering the next iteration, exploring how to keep the shop local message alive and active.
The City's work on a climate action plan will also have positive repercussions for economic development. "Out of that will come a number of measures and a model for how Pleasanton will operate in the future," says Ott. One aspect of the plan is determining how to engage the business community and further promote the efforts of the Alameda County Green Business plan and StopWaste.org.
Another is attracting and retaining companies that provide services and products that fall into the "green economy" category - for example, the production or installation of solar panels or a firm that performs energy audits. Ott mentions one local company that is developing paint that serves like a receptor for solar energy. "How cutting-edge is that!" she enthuses, continuing, "We want to let them know we're here to support them with the infrastructure and other services they need to prosper."
Summing up, Ott comments that while the market has been difficult for many businesses, the situation is not without the proverbial silver lining. The availability of commercial space has generated "tremendous opportunity" for small and large companies alike, whether to start up, move from home to an outside office, or expand into larger quarters.
One thing she stresses is that her department is available to help existing businesses with their questions and issues, as well as offering support to new arrivals and prospects. There is also no size threshold for assistance. "On any given day, I can talk to a company 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 concludes.
Pleasanton's Economic Vitality Committee (EVC) is charged with assessing the City's business climate, reviewing issues that may impact it, and offering suggestions and recommendations to the City Council in order to maintain a strong local economy.
"A tremendous resource," according to Ott, the EVC meets regularly to advance the implementation of the City's Economic Development Strategic Plan, a document commissioned 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 ( www.ci.pleasanton.ca.us/pdf/ed-strategic-plan-fin-070206.pdf ) 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.Appointed by the City Council, the EVC's 23 members represent the gamut of business sectors. This diversity is one of their strengths as they strive to make thoughtful and well-formulated recommendations to help maintain Pleasanton's highly-valued quality of life. Currently the EVC has openings for representatives from three different sectors: commercial services, infrastructure , and medical technology. Interested applicants can email Ott at POtt@ci.pleasanton.ca.us .
Hacienda tenants should note that the park works closely with City staff on the implementation of economic development initiatives. Hacienda businesses wishing to provide input to the City's economic development plans and programs may do so by forwarding comments to the Hacienda Owners Association, via email to email@example.com or by calling (925) 734-6500.
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