FAIRFIELD — Available land for office and industrial developments and a labor force that largely commutes elsewhere but could be redirected locally are advantages as Solano County competes for new businesses, according to a new economic development study.
“Fairfield we think is one of the key areas, along with Vacaville, in terms of land supply,” David Zehnder of Economic Planning Systems Inc. told the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “Fairfield we also think occupies a very strategic niche in terms of being the gateway to the Napa Valley.”
The new economic report lists advantages of all the local communities: Suisun City’s opportunities to expand recreational opportunities near Suisun Marsh, Vallejo’s waterfront and Mare Island areas, Rio Vista’s chance to redevelop a vacated U.S. Army base, Dixon’s chances to develop partnerships with the nearby University of California, Davis, and Benicia’s industrial land.
Now Solano County and its cities will try to work together to try to maximize the regional assets.
County supervisors listened to the presentation on Moving Solano Forward, a new effort to diversify Solano County’s economy so that it depends less on Travis Air Force Base. They approved the effort by a 4-0 vote, with Supervisors Erin Hannigan, Linda Seifert, Jim Spering and John Vasquez voting “yes” and Supervisor Skip Thomson absent.
Seifert talked of sifting through the many recommendations in the study and focusing on the best ones. She warned against doing the same things and getting the same results. If anything, she would have welcomed a bolder approach.
“I think some of us who are dreamers and optimistic really hoped for a brand-new strategy,” she said during the meeting.
Travis Air Force Base employs 13,400 workers and by its own estimate has a $1.6 billion annual impact on the local economy. The Moving Solano Forward program is designed to find ways to diversify the economy so the county can better weather shifts in federal defense spending.
Solano County worked with the Solano Economic Development Corp., local cities, businesses and other parties over the past 18 months on the economic diversification study. It used a $369,860 grant from the federal Department of Defense to pay for the project, which included hiring Economic Planning Systems Inc. as a consultant.
“It’s not about making Travis smaller,” county Senior Management Analyst Stephen Pierce said. “It’s making Travis a big piece of a bigger pie.”
Solano County has substantial vacant land located in the right locations, about 7,500 acres zoned for office and industrial development, Zehnder said. About 600 acres to 700 acres is ready for development. Locations include at Interstate 80 and Highway 12 in Fairfield and at the I-80 and Interstate 505 interchange in Vacaville.
The county probably has 12 years to 15 years worth of land supply, though the number could drop quickly if one or two large users come in, Zehnder said. He foresees a “great amount of interest” descending on the county over the next 20 years.
Vasquez said the city councils and city managers and public works directors need to know they are responsible for getting land ready to develop.
Zehnder said many of the study’s recommendations are centered on the cities.
“We make some recommendations,” Zehnder said. “Ultimately, the cities must get comfortable with these recommendations and determine how they can move forward.”
The plan looked at business clusters present in Solano County as places to focus limited resources when bringing in new businesses. It mentioned four clusters: energy, food, medical and life sciences, and advanced materials.
Spering talked of taking a more global approach, rather than have the cities competing against each other for new businesses, as they have done for the past 20 years. He noted the four clusters are all centered along the I-80 corridor and he wants to market that corridor.
The study also mentions potential threats and weaknesses to Solano County’s diversification efforts. Among them are a lack of federal and state funding for infrastructure, regulatory hurdles, a lack of unifying county identity, gaps between workforce skills and local job opportunities, and crime and public safety issues.
Three major goals listed in the study are improving countywide development capacity, strengthening regional economic and workforce development programs, and improving the quality of life for residents and businesses. Specific steps range from more effectively marketing vacant county land to creating a new, unifying look along I-80 in cities to lowering the crime rate.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.