Wednesday, March 16, 2005

EDC draws new business to Solano

SEDCORP, with new name and leadership, pushes benefits of business in county
By RACHEL RASKIN-ZRIHEN, Times-Herald staff writer

How do you convince a large company to move someplace where its costs will rise, doing business will be more difficult in a number of ways and it could do the same thing more easily almost anywhere else?

It's not easy. But that's exactly what the Solano Economic Development Corporation's job does - talk up the county to business leaders nationwide in an effort to bring jobs here.

"It's an uphill battle, but one worth fighting," said Vallejo Chamber of Commerce head Rick Wells. "The implications for the community are phenomenal."

Wells said the EDC is an important link in a chain of agencies and organizations trying to improve the county's economy by recruiting new businesses to the area. Part of the challenge is letting industry leaders know Solano County is here, said EDC head Michael S. Ammann.

Formerly known as SEDCORP, the Fairfield-based organization is funded by the county's cities, and recently underwent a complete overhaul, emerging with the new moniker and new leadership from Ammann.

It was Ammann, discovered in Michigan during a nationwide headhunt, who came up with the EDC's new marketing and mission statement: "Solano's Got It!... The Best Northern California Has To Offer!"

Sandy Person, the EDC's new vice president, is back with the agency after several years away. She said the reborn, re-focused enterprise had been in decline in recent years, and is now fighting its way back.

Besides scouring the nation for businesses of various types and sizes to locate in Solano County, the EDC must also find the balance between the needs of the individual cities and the county in general. Each Solano County city has its own unique vision of itself and its future, Person said, so different business prospects will be a more or less appropriate fit, depending on a variety of criteria. The organization's board members believe, though, that what benefits one Solano County city benefits the others, because the more jobs there are within the county, the more money, income and taxes are earned and spent here.

Founded in 1984 primarily as a real estate organization, SEDCORP fell on hard times in the early 1990s, Person said. A 2002 study of the area's needs lead about a year and a half ago to the name change and a refocusing of the organization on its original mission - marketing the county. The change was needed because although Solano County's location is its main selling point, too many people outside the immediate area have no idea where it is, Person and Ammann said.

"The name changed because no one outside of Solano County knew what it meant. The new name is more standard lingo," Ammann said. "One of the biggest problems is that no one knew where Solano County is. It had no identity to the outside world. They may have heard of Vallejo because of Mare Island or Marine World, but they had no idea about the county. In terms of reputation nationally, Solano doesn't exist."

The reorganization also prompted a nationwide recruitment effort for a new EDC president. Ammann, 57, took on the job of "going out and talking to site selectors and telling them about Solano County," he said.

Ammann said the county's location between Northern California's two main population and industry centers is a major selling point. But there are challenges, as well, some of which are outside of local control.

"California's business climate is a challenge, and there are other states, like Nevada and Oregon, actively recruiting businesses away from the state. But we have a large marketplace and we're between two of the region's largest markets - The Bay Area and Sacramento," Ammann said. "Also, regionally, people and businesses have been moving east from the Bay Area, and we haven't been at the table and that's what I'm doing."

Wells agrees California's current business climate is the main challenge facing any business recruiting firm.

"It's been rough going lately. It's hard to attract business when its costs are going to go up. It's hard to recruit businesses to a state ranked 46th in business friendliness," Wells said.
Amman said that in selling the county to the world, he accentuates the positive, but it's important to be realistic, too.

"Solano County probably won't attract the huge companies' corporate headquarters, but it could get the smaller, regional offices or manufacturing facilities," Ammann said. "It's close to the University of California at Davis, a major research institution, which makes it realistic to try recruiting technical and bio-tech firms. Also, State Farm locating in Vallejo could attract other large office users."

The county lacks "a corporate mentality - the high-end restaurants, world-class theater" - to attract the larger corporate headquarters, Person agreed, "though as we grow, we're developing that. And there are some exceptions. Jelly Belly did come here. But expectations have to be in line with what Solano's reality is."

Ammann said he tries to market the entire county, keeping in mind each city's unique attributes.

"Each community has its advantages and disadvantages," Ammann said. "For example, Dixon has no buildings available where Vallejo, Fairfield and Vacaville do. But Dixon has available land for development and a city like Benicia really doesn't."

Person, 50, said an important message and selling point to the 20 to 25 prospect companies the EDC is courting at any given time, is that "when companies do locate here, they tend to expand and grow."

Success with an agency like the EDC, is measured in "tangible value" - results - but it doesn't happen over night, Person and Amman said.

"These things take time," Ammann said. "If you're going to make a several-million-dollar investment in a city, that decision takes time. My motto is to follow up until they die, buy or locate someplace."

For information, visit SolanoProspector, , on line, the Solano Economic Development Corporation, 424C Executive Court North, Fairfield, or call 864-1855 or (888) 864-1855.

Solano's Got It!

Solano's Got It!
The Best That Northern California Has To Offer.

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