[caption id="attachment_36621" align="alignleft" width="282" caption="Anthy O’Brien, Ingrid Alverde"][/caption]
PETALUMA -- As the city enjoys a wave of companies expanding to and inside Petaluma, private and public economic development efforts are identifying hurdles businesses must clear to survive, arrive and thrive and helping companies to clear those barriers.
Earlier this year wound treatment developer Oculus Innovative Sciences needed to renew a lease for its 13,000-square-foot headquarters offices and lab but encountered trouble getting critical written confirmation from city officials for use of up to 10,000 gallons of water a month for production, something essential to being able to continue local production, according to Anthy O'Brien, president of Top Speed Data and chairwoman of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce's Economic Development Committee.
The committee, split from the chamber's Government Affairs Committee in December, was alerted to Oculus' plight and worked with city officials to get the needed letter. At the end of May, Oculus and RNM Properties, owner of 1129 N. McDowell Blvd., agreed to extend the lease for three years.
"We jump on every single business we hear about that needs help and jump on it proactively," Ms. O'Brien said. The committee has purchased city zoning maps and talked with city planning officials about the Zoning Ordinance to be able to help businesses know what's possible where they are or where they want to go.
City government also is getting proactive. Earlier this year, the City Council adopted an economic strategic plan earlier this year and approved spending money on a staff member dedicated to keeping and attracting businesses, especially ones that generate tax revenue to support city services. In May, the city hired Ingrid Alverde as economic development manager, based on her track record of attracting major retailers and other businesses to Poway, a northern suburb of San Diego.
Some fruits of the renewed city government focus on economic development are being harvested. A proposal from Lagunitas Brewing Company to significantly expand its production capacity within its facility this year was handled by joint meetings with various city departments such as planning, public works and fire, saving weeks often required for proposals to circulate from department to department for comment.
"It's extra hand-holding and extra support to help businesses move through the process," Ms. Alverde said.
Significant challenges for business are complicated project and permit review, something Ms. Alverde said she is working with the Community Development department to streamline per the new city strategy, and an entitlement and permit process that's not effectively communicated.
"There's nothing harder for business than not knowing the steps," she said.
More recently, Enphase Energy faced an affordable housing impact fee for its planned 96,000-square-foot expansion this fall, but the City Council approved an exception because it was a tenant improvement project involving high-wage jobs and not new commercial space.
"We don't know how many businesses we're losing because they can't get clarification from the city on what they need to do," Ms. O'Brien said.
Both the chamber's Economic Development Committee and Ms. Alverde are starting to change that. Ms. O'Brien and Ms. Alverde meet up to a couple of times a week to coordinate efforts.