Economic Development efforts move forward despite staffing losses

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Economic Development efforts move forward despite staffing lossesIn the wake of losing two key economic development positions at City Hall — in the space of a single week — City Manager Ron Strand addressed how the city plans to move forward with various projects as staffing remains in flux.

Strand confirmed Wednesday that Planner Giancarlo Bruno’s last day was June 13, and Community and Economic Development Director Phenvana Panpradith’s last day was June 18. Panpradith was reportedly still in the probationary phase of employment, but Strand declined to comment further on the reasons, citing privacy concerns. (See also related story, this page.)

“We have been working on our processes and permitting, and I think in the last year we have made significant improvements toward making the city more business-friendly and flexible,” said Strand.

“Obviously, it’s important to fill these vacant positions, but overall we are still in a better position today than we were a year ago.”

That upheaval in economic development is part of the shifting municipal landscape, which saw a complete turnover in department heads — including Strand’s position — in the space of about a year.

“My priority has been to improve the way city staff takes care of business,” he said. “When people show up to the building department, we want them to have good information and people who can help them through the process. That’s now in place.”

Strand said that the city has already hired another planner, who starts work July 30. He said he expects that the economic and community management director will be advertised.

“It’s important to me that the person we hire is able to work with and build relationships among the other local agencies,” he said. While the Economic Development Corp., chamber and visitors bureau may have separate components they manage in terms of fostering growth in the city, “We want to be working together, in the same direction, toward common goals.”

Strand also added that the city is doing everything it can to maintain momentum on the various developments in the works.

One element that may provide some continuity for the city is HDL, a consulting firm hired in April to analyze the demographics of our community in order to find compatible retailers.

“They look at everything from location, population, demographics and proximity to their supply chains, then they look at what we are missing here and try to fill that need.”

Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens said that HDL has already proven themselves an asset, based on their performance at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ global retail real estate convention held May in Las Vegas.

Stephens said that when the city attended last year, she realized they didn’t have the access they needed to retailers in order to establish meaningful contact.

“I definitely think this year was far more productive,” she said. “Our new consultant was very good about set up high-quality, productive meetings with brands that would actually have an interest in locating here.”

She said that those included Panda Express, Chipotle and Sonic, as well as a hotel.

“For some businesses, the companies would actually want to identify a franchisee who is interested in opening up a franchise here. But I know the IWVEDC is working with the Small Business Development Center in Bakersfield to host an informational session for anyone who wants to know how to go about becoming one.”

In order to increase the tax base, most economic development experts have speculated that the IWV needs to attract new, or allow expansion in existing, product-based industries to achieve the most beneficial impact to the community.

But city officials have pointed out that by attracting additional retail business, the community can capture more disposable income — from both residents and visitors — that reduce the tax leakage to surrounding communities.

Pictured: Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens meets with Sonic representatives during a recent retail convention. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2018-06-22