Thursday, December 30, 2004

Business made a bang in 2004

By Marla J. Pugh
FAIRFIELD - Solano County business and community leaders saw big deals made here this year, and the groundwork being laid for an even more profitable 2005.

From Genentech's plans to expand in Vacaville, Wal-Mart's interest in putting at least one more store in Fairfield and a new mall developer's interest in Vallejo, business made a bang all over the county in 2004.

But it will be 2005 when all the fruits of those plans make the most impact on the local economy. And for local business leaders, they can hardly wait.

"I feel really positive about 2005," said Steve Epps, owner of Virgil's Bait Shop in Suisun City and a member of the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber. "The polls are showing that confidence is up, and I think we have a governor that is pro-business. There seems to be a lot to look forward to."

While other areas in California rode an economic roller coaster in 2004, Solano County remained stable because of it's Ace in the Hole - Travis Air Force Base.

"There wasn't any event in 2004 that drastically changed our business climate here, primarily because of Travis," said Mac McManigal, chairman of the Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and executive director of ORBA Financial Management in Fairfield.

Base closure decisions next year may provide more opportunities for Travis, added Sean Quinn, director of Fairfield's Department of Planning and Development.

"An opportunity may exist to attract additional missions to Travis, which will help local businesses," he said.

Politics took a turn for the better for business in 2004.

Many business leaders agree Arnold Schwarzenegger's leap from actor to governor helped their bottom line.

"Our new governor has a more pro-business stance. . . . His veto of all the job-killing legislation really helped, as did what we have seen so far in workers compensation reform," Vacaville Chamber of Commerce President Gary Tatum said.

Denton Connor, chairman of the Vacaville Chamber board and co-owner of Cavanagh, Connor and Co., a CPA firm, added that in Vacaville, there were also pro business city council officials elected in 2004, helping the local business climate.

In Fairfield, communication between the business community and city leaders improved, some said.

"Business and the city have not gotten along that well in the past, and it seems like we are getting along better," McManigal said.

In 2005, the Fairfield mayor, two city council seats and a county supervisor will be up for reelection, and McManigal said who wins those races will be one of the biggest deciding factors in how business is shaped locally, especially on the issues of transportation and crime - the top two concerns voiced by Fairfield-Suisun Chamber members in a recent survey.

This year also marked big plans and improvements for the downtowns in almost all Solano County's cities.

In Fairfield, the new government center has already sparked activity in the downtown core, where big names such as Quiznos and Starbucks - once thought impossible to get here - have decided to open stores.

"Getting big businesses like that here makes more people want to come downtown," said Kerry Vafeas, co-owner of Amore's restaurant located downtown, and a member of the Fairfield Downtown Association Board of Directors. "I'm hoping as more people come downtown to check those places out, the more people will learn about our business, too."

In Vacaville, a new town plaza and library, which are almost complete, are also sparking renewed growth.

In Suisun City, plans moved forward to redevelop the area west of Main Street and to add a lighthouse to the waterfront.

And in Vallejo, the remodel of a historic downtown theater and plans for private developers to revamp the downtown core also progressed.

There was also a big push in 2004 to get people outside of Solano County to take another look at spending money here.

The Solano Economic Development Corp., known primarily as Sedcorp, changed its name to the Solano EDC and came up with a marketing plan to attract more businesses, led by the slogan "Solano's Got It!"

Fairfield's new Tourism Promotion Agency also got approval from the city to form a new business improvement district to raise money for tourism efforts, including a California Welcome Center. And Vacaville started its own Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

In Suisun City, the Suisun City Business Group and the year-old Suisun Business Improvement District joined forces to have a stronger political voice as well as to market the area better.

"The camaraderie between the businesses was great this year," said Shelly Kontogiannis, president of the Suisun BID and co-owner of the Athenian Grill in Old Town Suisun. "There was a lot of synergy, a lot of people working together to bring more business to the whole downtown, not just to one business. I felt like we really worked together to brand Suisun as a place to come shop and play."

As a result, Kontogiannis said, business as a whole increased this year, she said.

"I'm optimistic," she said. "Now that business has increased in 2004, I think a lot of people are hoping it will do even better in 2005."

Reach Marla Pugh at or 427-6934.
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