HEALDSBURG -- In an era of slow growth and continuing high unemployment, Healdsburg has become the latest city to begin exploring ways to increase jobs, stimulate commercial occupancy and grow its tax base by utilizing the strength of its existing technology hub to attract and retain firms and support a business incubator.
Healdsburg joins groups throughout the North Bay with similar objectives: iHub in Rohnert Park, the proposed Trellis Napa Valley incubator, a taskforce by the Windsor Chamber and town of Windsor, Santa Rosa Chamber’s BEST program, Work Petaluma and other economic development models throughout the region.
Early stage efforts in Healdsburg focus on its clean and green high-tech business nucleus to provide ways to support existing wine and food industry players and their supply chains, as well as assist startups and entrepreneurs in gaining market traction.
“The technology sector has a larger multiplier effect on the local economic and adds diversification with low infrastructure and environmental impacts,” according to Jennifer LeBrett, director of business and membership development for the Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.
The chamber is working with a city council economic development steering committee task force, led by Assistant City Manager David Mickaelian, to consider potential initiatives.
For example, space for a proposed incubator has been identified at the Community Development Center near city hall. The center would be relocated.
He said that while some startups need inexpensive space and infrastructure facilities, others may only require counsel on how to develop business pro forma plans, etc.
“Our goal is to figure out what works best for Healdsburg and then to develop a plan,” Mr. Mickaelian said.
“The current One Stop development program, established a year ago, streamlines the development and permitting process for business seeking to relocate, get established or expand. We are currently looking at ways to reduce and/or defer capacity charges and impact fees.”
He said monthly open forum meetings are also held with business leaders and the community to address economic issues, discuss town policies and identify resources.
Ms. LeBrett said the chamber is looking at a variety of customer service oriented best practices to support new businesses coming to town, while also assessing the assets and benefits associated with locating a business in Healdsburg.
The chamber and city are also reviewing ways to leverage county programs and how to collaborate with others to attract new firms.
The next task force meeting is set for Jan. 14 to establish a timeline for this effort. Results from this session will go to the steering committee for review and action.
“When an area has an excess of service jobs it can put a strain on the local economy. Finding ways to grow the technology sector will help start and expand new enterprises and also add higher level, higher paying jobs to the mix that help create a more sustainable economy,” Ms. LeBrett said.
She said to have the most economic impact, the city should also target and help grow companies that create tech products and services that can be sold outside of the immediate area -- as well as help firms already here.
Healdsburg’s economy is primarily agriculture and tourism based. However, this community has also become home to an increasing number of innovators and technology-minded inventors that have established software, clean manufacturing and technology enterprises.