Council, EDB give OK to economic plan
■ At joint session, panels approve effort to boost business
By Keri Luiz and Donna Beth Weilenman
Benicia Herald Staff
In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Benicia City Council and the city’s Economic Development Board accepted the draft of a business development action plan, and told city staff to have the plan ready to launch in 120 days.
The plan’s list of priorities include establishing a formal program to attract businesses to the city as well as keep and expand the companies already in Benicia; forming a task force to streamline the city’s permitting process; establishing an economic development website; and increasing the city’s economic development operations. The panels added one item: establishing performance measures.
Other priorities focused on the Benicia Industrial Park, which had been the subject of one common theme not only during Tuesday’s joint meeting but in earlier meetings of the EDB. That theme was that the Industrial Park, the biggest tax revenue generator, is in need of a lot of updating and fixing in order to draw in more businesses.
The launch schedule reflected that theme in several of its priorities: Determine incentive or investment options for the Benicia Industrial Park; work with AMPORTS, which operates the Port of Benicia, and CODA Automotive, the company that will assemble all-electric cars there, to see what ancillary businesses or services should be sought to meet their needs; and improve the Industrial Park’s infrastructure by repairing its damaged roads, rectifying conditions that lead to flooding, and installing broadband Internet service.
Audrey Taylor, president of Chabin Concepts, the consultant that produced the plan’s draft, led the presentation. It was a condensed version of the one she gave at an all-day confab at the Benicia Community Center on Oct. 12.
“I have to say, this is an historic moment in my career to have a joint meeting between the Economic Development Board and the Council,” Taylor said at the beginning of Tuesday’s joint meeting. “You should be very proud of this. You have taken this project very seriously.”
The 66-page document, which will undergo further refinement to include the suggestions of Council and EDB members, is a blueprint for Benicia’s economic development activities during the nex 18 to 36 months, with hopes of improving the city’s economic base and adding more jobs to improve residents’ own prosperity.
Chabin and its associates determined that this year, Benicia has spent 70 percent of its staff time and 81 percent of its economic development budget — $233,700 — on tourism and the encouragement of downtown business.
However, the city has two other revenue generators: its commercial areas outside the downtown district, and more significantly, the Industrial Park, which generates a total of $11,793,434 in total taxable sales revenue. (This is compared to $730,756 generated by downtown businesses and $1,458,578 from those in the city’s other commercial areas.)
The report urged the city to give more support to those two areas, a recommendation with which EDB Chairperson Christina Strawbridge, a downtown business owner, agreed.
There is a need for balance in the way the resources are spent between downtown, commercial and industrial, Taylor said. “You don’t want to stop doing the things that you’ve been doing in the downtown or the tourism, but you want to start balancing this out,” she said.
“For the last couple years you have put a lot of investment in your downtown and your tourism, and you should have. That was your priority in your 2007 economic development strategy plan.”
While there is a need to continue moving forward on downtown and tourism, there is also a great need to focus on the industrial area, she said.
“This is the economic generator for the city,” Taylor said. “And it needs to be vibrant.
“I don’t feel downtown is feeling, ‘You’re going take our money away.’ I hope the focus is on the Industrial Park.” She reminded the two panels that revenue from Industrial Park commerce benefits the area schools as well as other Benicia companies.
“It feeds us,” she said.
Jasmin Powell of Dunlop Manufacturing, an Industrial Park company, reminded the pair of panels that the Industrial Park “has no broadband, and the roads need help.”
In addition, she said she is worried about the threat of an order from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control that might require property owners to foot the bill to make sure the park, which sits on a former military arsenal site, is free of ordnance and hazardous chemicals.
“I don’t see money in the budget for Industrial Park infrastructure,” Powell said.
Taylor said the report didn’t cover that point, but said Industrial Park businesses need to help determine priorities “because the city can’t fund it all.”
But there are ways of finding funding, she said.
“One of the reasons to start your formal business retention program is to start to look for businesses that are expanding so that we can leverage funding from state and federal resources that can help.
“There’s always a kind of cause and effect that we’re looking for.”