Marin County's largest city and civic hub, San Rafael, wants to boost its appeal as a commercial center, and a number of interrelated local government and business group efforts are in motion with the goal of making that happen.
A key motivator for this is Sacramento's dissolution of redevelopment agencies in San Rafael and in more than 400 other locales statewide in February 2012. Downtown San Rafael Business Improvement District lost $13,000 in annual redevelopment dollars, and the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, about $40,000 a year, according to Stephanie Lovette, economic development manager. Both were handling business retention and attraction functions for the agency.
"The BID and chamber are stepping up," she said. Winding down of the agency has taken her time away from those functions and trimmed funds available for events and infrastructure improvements. Yet, the city has started a search for a full-time economic development specialist in business retention and recruitment as well as an administrative assistant for that department.
[caption id="attachment_70939" align="alignleft" width="162"] Nancy Mackie[/caption]
Retaining businesses and attracting new ones will be part of a by presentation by San Rafael City Manager Nancy Mackle at the Business Journal's 2013 Impact Marin conference on April 3. Two recent successes for the city on those fronts have been helping to keep personal care items maker EO Products in Marin and attracting BioMarin Pharmaceutical's 400-employee headquarters to the downtown area.
In danger of folding after the current and looming loss of nearly three-quarters of its funding, the 33-year-old business improvement district on Tuesday officially proposed to the City Council its plan to restructure as a new nonprofit organization, expand its geographic area by several blocks and add more than 500 businesses to the assessment roll.
[caption id="attachment_70940" align="alignright" width="162"] Carol Thompson[/caption]
"The BID is taking the step toward more like a business would find in a mall, in getting security, promotions, marketing, parking and foot traffic," said Carol Thompson, district director since August. "Businesses locate here because they do not want to be in a mall, but they do not get those services."
"Clean and safe" is the focus of many BIDs in the Bay Area and nationwide, and that's the direction the reorganized San Rafael district wants to take, she said. Other focus areas are increased branding of the downtown area, balancing the mix of downtown businesses to have more that attract foot traffic and creating more events that do likewise.
Meanwhile, the chamber has been adapting joint business interviews done together with city economic development staff for more than a decade to the reality of less city staff time currently available for such interviews, according to Rick Wells, chamber president and chief executive officer.
[caption id="attachment_70950" align="alignleft" width="171"] Rick Wells[/caption]
"These days, it's all about making sure we're maximizing limited resources," he said.
The city manager's office and the chamber still are working together to keep and attract businesses, but the chamber's Economic Vitality Committee is filling in the intelligence gaps on business needs that had been gleaned through the interviews. The committee has mustered volunteers to interview and survey businesses.
The chamber also has had initial meetings with the BID and Marin Economic Forum to build a year-end report from responses to the standardized survey on business needs as well as how businesses downtown interact with those elsewhere.