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City Hall Support Spurs Economic Development



Incentives, Cooperative Spirit Make a Difference for Businesses

That determines the best place to do business? People may point to the old real estate maxim: location, location, location. But then there are others who are adamant that location isn’t everything.

While local resources play heavily into a company decision on where to do business, the attitude at City Hall is part of the equation, too.

Consider two cities in different parts of San Diego County , Poway and Chula Vista. Both are economically blossoming. And both have City Hall working to keep that momentum going.

Chula Vista Community Development Director Chris Salomone credits a lot of his city’s boom to “serendipity.” Normal market forces and political talent at many levels are helping his city grow, he said. the jobs in its business park in less than three years. In December 1997, the park held just 2,700 jobs, said Mayor Mickey Cafagna. Now it has more than 10,500.

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“We’re adding almost a new business a week there,” he said.

The city recently welcomed the Western regional headquarters for GEICO Direct and the corporate headquarters of First American Credco, which currently have about 2,800 employees between them. It will soon receive Toppan Electronics, which plans to house 1,000 employees in a 460,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that will be built in three phases.

– Poway Mayor Meets

With Businesspeople

Cafagna said he is happy to sit down with businesspeople to talk about needs and concerns. There are not too many cities where you can be so accessible to the mayor, he said.

“You don’t have to be a Toppan Electronics to get our attention,” he added.

One business that recently chose Poway is Disguise Inc., a manufacturer of Halloween costumes now based near Miramar Road. It broke ground in April for a 206,415-square-foot building in the business park.

By December, company officials expect to move an operation that now has 100 permanent employees, 600 to 700 temps, and almost every aspect of costume design, manufacturing and marketing.

The company, which has other facilities in Chula Vista’s Eastlake region, wanted to consolidate multiple operations under one roof, said Eric Dill, the company executive overseeing the move.

Dill said his company wanted to buy land, and looked at sites from North County to the Mexican border. Employee retention helped narrow the selection, he said: Management thought a central county site could offer most employees a better commute, more amenities and surroundings that would make them feel safe.

San Diego’s Mission Gorge Road was actually the company’s first choice. Elected officials liked the project, too, Dill said, but San Diego’s planning department expressed concerns about the development. Among other things, it cited its proximity to the San Diego River.

“The planning department put the brakes on the project,” Dill said, noting that while the company was rushing to meet a deadline, the planning department was asking for environmental studies that would take about six months to complete.

– Greeted With A

Warm Welcome

Dill said Poway city officials gave his company a warm welcome, worked to meet a tight company deadline, agreed to most company requests and were generally accommodating.

“When you’ve got the mayor, the city manager and the director of planning in a meeting, and they’re all giving you their assurances, you tend to believe it,” Dill said.

All told, the South Poway Business Park encompasses 700 acres. It now has 314 businesses in roughly 5.5 million square feet of building space, with another 1 million square feet either in the construction or in the planning stage, city officials said.

Eventually the business park could be home to 22,000 to 23,000 jobs, Cafagna said, adding that Poway Road and the rest of the city add 5,000 jobs to the mix.

In Poway as in other municipalities, the benefits of economic development come back to City Hall, often in the form of increased property taxes or increased sales taxes. Auto dealerships are important generators of city income, Cafagna said.

– Spurring Economic

Development With Fees

There are other ways Poway city government spurs economic development.

Setting building permit fees, for example. Cafagna noted they are a little more than $1 per square foot in the business park, while other cities may charge $5 to $6 per square foot.

The city also offers Poway Road businesses up to $10,000 to help spruce up their facades. The arrangement is a loan, but most of the loan is forgiven if a tenant stays in place five years, city officials said. Shopping centers can fall into disrepair, Cafagna said, adding the point of the program is to keep property values up.

In a less formal program, the mayor acknowledged the City Council has been willing to bend its Poway Road design guidelines for its auto dealerships. But the city has asked the dealers for concessions in return, Cafagna said: “They had to be willing to bend a little, too.”

Like many other municipalities, Poway and Chula Vista can put businesses deemed important by City Hall on a fast track through the city planning process.

That is how Chula Vista accommodated Leviton Manufacturing, an electronics firm promising to bring 200 high-paying engineering jobs to Eastlake.

– Speeding Up The

Planning Process

Literature put out by Chula Vista’s Community Development Department noted the city sent Leviton’s seven acres , as well as more than 100 acres in phase II of the Eastlake Business Center , into an “extraordinarily streamlined” city planning process.

Environmental reviews, land-use amendments, mapping, design reviews and plan checks had to be completed in 5 & #733; months. The goal was to let Leviton pull its building permit early this year. The site is being graded now.

Playing a big role in the hurry-up schedule was the city’s Business Response Team, which according to Cheryl Dye, the city’s economic development manager, brings the city manager together with department heads to identify company needs and expedite schedules.

Chula Vista works to spur economic development in other ways. Within City Hall, Dye said, leaders are spreading the word on why economic development is a top priority for all employees.

They also are sending delegations out to lend an ear to business. Managers hope to visit two dozen businesses this year, said Shelly Bailey, business retention specialist for the city.

City representatives conduct these listening sessions on a company’s own turf. Dye and Bailey spoke of a recent visit to GCE Industries on Nirvana Road, where they were able to come up with a quick fix.

It seemed quitting time up and down the street was creating traffic headaches there and on Main Street (formerly Otay Valley Road). Bailey said city engineers were able to adjust the timing of the traffic signal and create an additional right-turn lane , and do it in short order.

It wasn’t the first time the city helped GCE, formerly known as Gold Coast Engineering. During the early 1990s, it issued tax-free industrial development bonds to help the company expand.

– City Sponsors

Several Programs

Dye and Salomone, the city’s community development director, named several other programs the city sponsors, from recycling incentives to help in finding employees with specialized training. At times the city reduces or waives fees for desirable businesses, Salomone acknowledged.

Still, city government does not do it all. Local representatives from the state capitol down to the San Diego Unified Port District help, he said.

As do market forces.

North County is running out of land, Dye said.

And where else in the county, asked Salomone, can you still find parcels of 25 to 30 acres?

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