The City is Doing Fine Economically, but Could be Even Stronger

Economic Development and Technology Committee Hears Economic Task Force Update

Published : Wednesday, May 17, 2017 | 5:18 AM

Eric Duyshart, Pasadena's Economic Development Manager

The City of Pasadena is doing as well or better economically than many local cities of the same size, but could be doing even better in increasing foreign investments and attracting new companies and hotels as well as better marketing itself through social media, according to the head of the City’s Economic Development Department.

In a presentation of the City’s updated Economic Development Strategic Plan, originally developed in 2012, Eric Duyshart told the Council’s Economic Development and Technology Committee Tuesday that improvements in the national economy along with the focused efforts by the City and its stakeholders have helped advance many of the strategies found within the Economic Development Task Force report.

However, according to the update, “Additional work to further advance the goals and strategies is certainly needed. As we refresh the EDSP conversation, macro­ economic changes, regional forces, and the realities of new competition will continue to present challenges and opportunities for the City.”

The update highlighted four major areas of discussion — Job Creation, Shopping and Dining, Innovation, and Visitor Strategy.

In the area of job creation, the report found that the city needs to “celebrate the recruitment and expansion of companies, particularly those in key sectors like finance, engineering, medicine, and technology.”

As Duyshart noted, “The City has run hot and cold in this area.”

“Over the last few years, the City, Chamber of Commerce, Innovate Pasadena, and other local partners have worked to generate positive Pasadena business stories. The effort to broadcast good news has been an important element in bolstering confidence in the local economy while aspiring to encourage additional investments and new jobs. City staff has worked with a few growing companies to bring attention to their successes, however, a broader community wide approach to celebrate business success, could be improved,” the report added.

Pasadena should also pursue opportunities for foreign investment, particularly from Pacific Rim countries, as well as build a culture of sharing leads and business contacts to jointly market Pasadena’s business strengths.
According to the report, the City, Chamber of Commerce, business district leadership, Innovate Pasadena, and others have “strengthened joint efforts that include introductory meetings with new businesses, and network event planning.” But Duyshart indicated that in many cases the City has not moved further than that.

The City should also “Forge partnerships with employers, educators, and youth service providers to integrate core academic programs, career technical curriculum, and work based learning opportunities,” according to the report. Pasadena City College, Pasadena Unified School District, and the Foothill Workforce Investment Board offer career and technical training programs with the goal to prepare people for employment and upgrading job skills. These stakeholders, along with the City and local business representatives have pursued grants and new programs.

The report also noted the importance of local groups like The Foothill Workforce Investment Board and other local non-profits to actively develop training programs that target underemployed individuals and at risk youth.

“Improved unemployment rates have helped program participants in recent months, but improved coordination between stakeholders will help the effort progress further,” the report noted.

Specific growth sites should also be highlighted by the city in attracting new companies and business, the report suggested, saying, “Since the adoption of the EDSP, several sites have been identified by City staff as credible opportunity sites. These sites included the Lincoln Post Office, Lincoln Lumber Block, corners of Green & Holliston, the Avon Facility, corners of Colorado and Sierra Madre Villa, and parcels abutting Fillmore Street and Raymond Avenue. Property ownership, economic trends, and other shifting realities will continue to warrant monitoring of various sites to review new investment opportunities that the City may want to considering highlighting.”

The Task Force report noted that there has recently been attention focused on improving City’s permitting practices, inspection processes, planning and design review, which Duyshart agreed has sometimes thwarted new development. An Internal Review Team (IRT) has made numerous improvements including the creation of a reporting system to ensure that plan checks are reviewed and completed within the established timeframes, and an electronic routing system to replace the hard copy interoffice mail system, has been developed. There are also ongoing efforts to encourage clearer communication among the departments, the report stated.

In terms of Shopping and Dining Strategies, the Task Force noted that the City should work with brokers and property representatives to fill vacant space with high-quality retailers.

“Each quarter,” the report said, “Economic Development staff identifies storefront vacancies in Pasadena in order to understand issues faced by commercial property owners, and as appropriate, help the ownership team. These consultations often reveal a layering of issues that contribute to the vacancy. These issues range from changes in retail operator preferences, to challenging disagreements between property owners. Although Pasadena’s retail vacancy rate is lower than most communities, Pasadena has more retail space per capita and is highly exposed to threatening changes in the retail sector.”

The City should also intensify “Shop Local,” ethnic retail, and young professional retail marketing efforts, the report suggested.

To that end, the City and Chamber of Commerce coordinate an annual shop local campaign during the holiday season, and merchants along local retail streets and businesses are “becoming increasingly savvy” to the spending habits of various southern California ethnic groups.

At the same time, the City’s Economic Development staff works with a data tracking consultant to identify psychographic consumer facts and trends in the Pasadena trade area. A recent report noted that less than 25% of VISA transactions/sales in Pasadena come from Pasadena residents. “This highlights the reliance that our local merchants have on customers that live outside of Pasadena,” said the report.

As Councilmember Tyron Hampton noted during the meeting, the City “needs to market itself better to young people,” and launch new technology and social media applications to attract shoppers and visitors. City staff has surveyed social media options and has tested platforms such as Facebook, lnstagram, Twitter, and the blogosphere. Downtown Pasadena business district representatives, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, City staff, and an interesting mix of local advocates are also populating various sites with modest success, said the report.

The City has also engaged the services of a local media consultant “in an effort to frame the deployment of targeting messaging for mobile device savvy consumers.”

As the report also noted, “An unfortunate byproduct of an active commercial district manifests itself in strained parking. In order to test options, the city is currently evaluating a new app, “CityFyd,” that can help users both locate and reserve parking spaces in the City.

The City should also develop parking policies that “provide flexibility to businesses hoping to occupy historic buildings and/or vacant commercial space,” suggested the Task Force report.

In addition, said the report, the City should collaborate with leaders in Pasadena’s “innovation ecosystem” to “support spin-off activities that foster a local culture of entrepreneurship.” Innovate Pasadena (IP) was formally launched eight months after the completion of the EDSP Task Force report and has developed a range of activities for tech entrepreneurs and employees. The City also supports IP, the Pasadena BioScience Collaborative , and “continues to seek opportunities to sponsor events that help draw attention to our local technology ecosystem.”

Along those lines, the update suggested that the City should market Pasadena as an innovation center with growing opportunities for venture capitalists and other service providers, noting that “engaging venture capitalists with the hope of them locating into Pasadena remains an elusive goal, with local tech companies still traveling to other parts of the state to raise money.” This effort would benefit from a refreshed campaign focused on highlighting local science and entrepreneurial success, said the report..

The City should also preserve and protect the amount of space allocated for Research and development use, according to the report, which noted that the light industrial pocket in east Pasadena along Walnut Street will be maintained through General Plan policies. Areas along Lincoln and South Raymond will also unfortunately see decreases in light industrial uses as residential development will be permitted to expand.

Retail, housing, and other higher rent opportunities also continue to put pressure on certain types of research space. Other groups that need wet lab space or larger flexible work space have a limited set of building alternatives to choose from, the report said.

Given that conclusion, the report advised that the City “Examine incentives to promote the creation of flexible commercial and light industrial space that can accommodate creative and technical uses.” To that end, the City has alreadypartnered with a range of private groups to promote creative space like Cross Campus, Alexandria Real Estate Equities and the Pasadena BioScience Collaborative. “These for-profit and non-profit entities provide important resources in the Pasadena tech environment. However, the price of Pasadena real estate continues to work against the creation of new, inexpensive flexible space,” said the report.

In terms of visitor strategies, the city needs to also encourage development of more convention-quality hotel rooms. This activity will significantly boost Pasadena’s ability to set aside rooms for the larger conventions that need guaranteed rooms for their participants, according to the report, which added, “There is continued interest in building additional hotel rooms in the City.” The Task Force also recommended that the City coordinate efforts to host conventions and trade events aimed at Pasadena’s key sectors like finance, engineering, medicine, technology, and design.

“While the competition for corporate event and convention business remains high, there have been several local successes related to science and technology themed bookings,” said the report.

While Pasadena is an internationally-known city, it should also leverage media coverage to reinforce Pasadena’s reputation, the report suggested. Social media continues to grow in influence, and “there is a growing need to take advantage of related opportunities given the increasing sophistication of agencies that promote competing visitor and shopping destinations.”

Relatedly, the City should also develop joint marketing communications program with key stakeholder groups, said the Task Force, saying “there are continued efforts by the PCOC to coordinate visitor-related activities within Pasadena, organize annual stakeholder meetings, and to stay abreast of regional opportunities.”

The full ED Task Force Report, is available at http://ww5.cityofpasadena.net/economicdevelopment/strategic-plan/ .

A discussion on the Housing Department’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Pilot Funding Program was tabled until the next committee meeting.

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