Every community in America wants to attract new businesses these days.
New businesses means more local jobs and increased tax revenues to pay for parks, police, firefighters, road repairs and other city services—a message repeated often during recent city elections.
While most Benicia residents regularly visit the First Street or Southampton retail areas, few venture into the Benicia Industrial Park. And yet the Industrial Park generates more business
than all other areas of Benicia combined.
“You can be here for years and never go to the Industrial Park,” says Jasmin Powell, vice president of Dunlop Manufacturing and a Benicia Industrial Park Association board member.
So the association is working to raise the park’s profile among Benicians. Last fall, the group mailed a flier to every home and business outlining the Industrial Park’s impact on the city and launched its own website (www.beniciaipa.org).
How much does the Industrial Park mean to the city?
“It most definitely is our economic engine, without question,” says Mario Giuliani, the city’s acting economic development manager. “Both in the number of jobs that the Industrial Park provides, and especially from the city’s viewpoint of sales and property taxes, it is huge. For example, in the second quarter of 2011, the Industrial Park generated $835,000 in sales tax while the rest of Benicia generated $264,000 in the same quarter.”
Powell and Phil Garrett, president of the Benicia Industrial Park Association, sat down with Benicia Magazine in mid-November to talk about the association’s goals, and Giuliani responded to questions after that session.
The business association wants everyone to know how much the Industrial Park contributes to Benicia.
“I don’t think it’s always gotten credit for all it’s done for the city. It helps make a lot of the quality of life you have here in Benicia,” says Garrett, managing partner for Colliers International real estate firm. He is finishing a two-year term as president of the association, which is part of the Benicia Chamber of Commerce. “The Industrial Park is an unbelievable asset and we need to take care of it.”
Giuliani says the city is now putting more resources into the Industrial Park.
“For a long time, the Industrial park wasn’t a top priority for the city, and now it is very clearly a top priority,” he says. “That’s a big start—we’re pivoting staff resources and time to the Industrial Park and doing what we can to retain and assist businesses there.”
What prompted the Benicia Industrial Park Association to launch its own website now?
Garrett: We’re very hard to find. People thought we were some old-boys club, and that’s just not true. We have about 75 members and we’re hoping to grow.
Powell: Also, the web site gives us better communication with our membership.
Garrett: We’re kind of in this century now. Others are 10,000 miles ahead, and we’re trying to catch up. We know people are finding it because they send us questions. It’s been interesting to see what people want to know.
What questions do people ask?
Garrett: We get a lot of questions from people in town about employment: Who’s hiring? I have grown kids and they’d like to get back to town, who’s got job openings? We get a lot of questions about jobs. We’ve talked about posting job openings on the web site.
Powell: But it’s not that simple. We have to go to members and get their approval. Some of the ideas may not be supported.
What are the association’s primary goals for 2012?
Garrett: One of our goals is to get some improvements, like broadband service.
Powell: I think the goals would be to try to get some help in getting some money to the park to repair the roads, to get broadband … to help businesses.
What is the status of broadband service in the Industrial Park?
Garrett: Part of the difficulty is who’s going to pay for it.
Powell: Especially in these current times when no one has money. … I don’t think anyone has a clear vision of what the solution is going to be. The city surveyed the businesses and then went to AT&T and Comcast. They came back and said it wasn’t cost-effective to install.
Garrett: The estimated cost is $1 to $1.5 million. It’s a lot of money, but it’s not a lot in the scope of the business park.
Powell: If you look at the total scope of the business park and the number of people there, it’s not.
Garrett: And we may have to wait for G-4 service, for technology to advance a bit more.
(Acting Economic Development Manager Mario Giuliani said the city is “very engaged in trying to get broadband to the Industrial Park.” The city has joined the East Bay Broadband Consortium, which is competing for a Public Utilities Commission grant to provide broadband service in underserved areas.)
What do businesses do now for internet access?
Powell: We first had satellite service, which was horrible. Then we went to a T-1 line and we now have four T-1 lines.
Why is road repair a top priority?
Garrett: We need operable roads. Some of the roads in the Industrial Park are so eroded that the appearance is poor, the function is poor. When you’re on these roads all the time, you go through equipment—tires, shocks—so quickly. And it looks old and tired, like everything needs work.
Powell: We have vacancies in the Industrial Park. It would be to everyone’s benefit to fill those vacancies. But you really have to have something to offer. The roads are in bad shape, there’s no broadband. It would be nice if we could shine it up.
Garrett: We compete with parks with newer buildings, newer roads.
Powell: Better lighting, better landscaping.
Garrett: The Industrial Park is older. It needs more TLC.
How much would the road repairs cost?
Garrett: How much is a boatload? I don’t know a dollar amount, but it’s a lot.
(Giuliani said road work is scheduled for Industrial Way and Channel Roads in 2012.)
Given all that, what assets does the Industrial Park offer businesses?
Powell: It has a lot of positive points. It’s right on 680 and 780, it has the port.
Garrett: We also have rail access. We have a good labor pool. If you compare it to a lot of other places, it’s safe. It has everything—it has diversity unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Most industrial parks are either all offices or all manufacturing. We’ve got manufacturing, engineering, bio-tech, food companies, auto mechanics, heavy equipment. Any kind of business—winery suppliers, like cork manufacturers, labels. They make a lot of labels in the Industrial Park. We’ve got everything.