Solano County attracts employers with available land, transportation linksMay 25 2021
FOR NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
May 24, 2021, 11:03AM
Solano County’s largest cities are experiencing unprecedented growth, adding new commercial and industrial projects like growing greens indoors and warehousing appliances.
Other good news is that some jobs lost during COVID-19 are returning.
Solano County Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Robert Burris on Jan. 30, 2019 (Gary Quackenbush / for North Bay Business Journal)
“As a region, we need to become more resilient and adaptable,” said Solano Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Robert Burris at a presentation in March. “Online business is no longer associated with the ‘space age,’ but a necessity. The economic downturn has caused every business and organization to self-evaluate and make changes.”
Businesses headquartered in other counties or states, such as Thistle, GE Appliances and Gotham Greens, have recently come to Solano County. GE’s 500,000-square-foot distribution center is already under construction, as is Gotham Greens’ 100,000 square foot produce greenhouse.
These projects are part of a new development uptick that has not been seen in some municipal areas of the county in recent years.
Through March, 82 businesses have received $340,000 in Benicia economic boost grants since this program was launched in July 2020, following the first pandemic shelter-at-home orders, according to Economic Development Manager Mario Giuliani, who also chairs the Solano EDC’s economic development task force.
The Benicia City Council set aside these funds as an incentive for businesses to expand, be able to stay downtown, hire or rehire those that may have been laid off, obtain relief from unexpected expenses or to help bridge a financial gap — defined as a 25% drop in revenue — to continue operations in Benicia’s commercial and industrial zones.
During the first of six funding rounds, $200,000 was provided, offering up to $10,000 per approved applicant. In subsequent rounds, the upper limit was $7,500, reimbursing up to $2,500 for six months of water and wastewater expenses, and grants were offered so restaurants could obtain outdoor dining equipment and furniture.
Most recently, $89,000 was allocated to again help businesses pay water bills.
Benicia also eliminated or relaxed its impact fees, including building permit and other fees up to $35,000, to help maintain and foster growth and development.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep our businesses above water while continuing to see what additional relief may be needed,” Giuliani said.
“Our focus is on ways to remove barriers and eliminate cumbersome hurdles to make the approval process quicker, easier and more cost effective for developers,” said Gillian Hayes, interim deputy city manager for Vallejo. “Projects involving 10,000 square feet or less are proposed to be permitted at a staff level. Other mandates, such as parking requirements, are being reduced and our zoning code has been updated.”
At the former Naval shipyard on Mare Island, a centerpiece of the area’s economic engine, Hayes said the goal is to develop a new specific-plan document that will include parameters for a new backbone infrastructure, more housing (including multifamily housing), and stimulation of business and employment growth.
She said a new term sheet was adopted last fall for phase 1 core development on Mare Island by Southern Land Company, following the transition from Lennar Mare Island LLC, the former management firm responsible for long-term planning and management.
Hayes also mentioned expansion and growth plans for modular home builder Factory_OS and others, such as Tesla. The arrival of a Tesla sales and service dealership at 1001 Admiral Callaghan Lane is expected to bring more sales tax to Vallejo along with the potential for attracting additional prestigious businesses to the city.
A new La Quinta Inn is going through the approval process along with an updated and approved Costco Wholesale store. In addition, commercial development at Solano Ranch will include a hotel, bank, coffee shop, market and other retail.
“Developers are welcome in Dixon,” said Vice Mayor Jim Ernest. “We invite them to join us in creating productive partnerships to help expand the infrastructure of our local economy. ”About 80% of our residents commute to jobs at UC Davis, Sacramento, Travis AFB, etc., increasing the need to create more business and employment opportunities within our city limits. Several projects are in various planning stages designed to achieve this.”
Scannell Properties is developing part of the 600-acre Northeast Quadrant Specific Plan area in Dixon, next to property initially intended to become a racetrack. That’s where a 500,000-square-foot GE Appliance distribution center is being built. When completed, this Haier company division will create 100 new jobs.
In addition, TEC Equipment, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, has established a dealership in Dixon at 8555 Pedrick Road, offering truck sales, service and parts as well as rental and leasing options. This 63,000-square-foot facility has 35 service bays, a $3 million parts inventory and 40 employees.
TEC sells new and used truck, trailer and auto transport vehicles at 29 locations from Seattle to Southern California serving a five-state region that includes Nevada and Arizona.
The The Dixon Orchards development is set add a 11-acre commercial center with a service station, express car wash, oil exchange facility and an 80-120 room hotel and one or two drive-through restaurants in phase 1.
Phase 2 of Dixon Orchards will focus on community commercial uses (a restaurant, bank and personal services) directed toward the recently built multi-family project and existing homes. This project is in the development agreement stage according to Ross Hilshiem, a representative for the California Capital and Investment Group (CCIG).
The CCIG is also in the due diligence phase for purchasing 60-acres of land that includes the iconic Milk Farm, with the goal of restoring this landmark and transforming the original site as a travel plaza of the future while maintaining its historic charm.
“Significant funding has been secured through the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HDC) to assist Dixon businesses impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic,” Ernest added.
Sonoma Springs Brewing Company opened a restaurant and beer garden in the former Carnegie library building at 300 Main St. in Vacaville last year. (SonomaSpringsBrewing.com)
Next generation development of the city’s biomanufacturing cluster includes the expansion of approximately 300 acres between I-80 and I-505 adjacent to existing biomanufacturing facilities as the future home of the nonprofit California Biomanufacturing Center, Inc., according to Tim Padden, economic development manager.
As part of this program, the city’s planning department and development review team is instituting a fast-track program for business entitlement approvals in 90-100 days from application submission to receipt of the land use permit.
“The city expects expansion efforts will lead to more than $2 billion in industrial development, 3.5 million square feet of commercial real estate and the addition of 10,000 jobs with a payroll of more than $1 billion a year,” Padden said.
The biomanufacturing center is designed to capitalize on Vacaville’s strengths in life science and advanced manufacturing to attract biotech firms and to encourage and support economic growth by streamlining the development process, reducing approval times and providing a primary point of contact for inspection and post-approval support in a plan was approved by the city council in March 2020.
Meanwhile, as of March, to help sustain local firms during the current slowdown, two rounds of small business grants up to $15,000 from the Cares Act (last September and December) were received by 40 Vacaville businesses as part of its resiliency and recovery program.
Three new Vacaville hotel projects include Home2 Suites by Hilton, Hyatthouse and Hampton Inn by Hilton. New beverage and hospitality venues include the Beer 40 Community Taphouse and the Sonoma Springs Brewing Company.
Sonoma Springs had been trying to open an eatery in the northern Solano city since 2016, but previous site plans fell through, the company wrote on its website. The restaurant and beer garden opened in the former Carnegie library building at 300 Main St.
“I don’t buy into the myth that everyone is leaving the Bay Area,” said David Gassaway, assistant city manager. “But I do want Fairfield to be the backstop for companies that choose to move east. Our proximity to the largest startup capital center in the U.S., equidistance between San Francisco and Sacramento, and affordable housing prices makes Fairfield very competitive.
He said Fairfield is also planning to become a transportation hub for Northern California with a rail terminal downtown. This terminal will connect existing heavy rail and future light rail lines from Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit in Sonoma-Marin counties with new tracks through Napa County to join the east-west Capital Corridor as well as rail lines to San Jose — giving our region greater passenger and freight access to the state and nation.
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The city is also seeing an increase in new dealerships at the Fairfield Auto Mall with the arrival of Hanlees Toyota Auto Group, Hansel Auto Group and Future Auto Group, also bringing Chrysler, Dodge (Ram) and Jeep to the area. A new BMW dealership has a five-year growth plan that will bring an estimated 100-plus jobs to its site on Auto Mall Parkway.
The need to accelerate development timelines is being aided with a new tool called PASS, a prequalified architectural submittal system, that includes a brief training course for architects giving them an overview of what the city expects to see in their submittals. Once architects are PASS certified, city planners assume input is correct. This speeds plan-check reviews with comments coming back to architects for revisions within days and permits granted in a week with a stamp of approval.
“We are working with a number of consultants to develop a new strategy for Fairfield. They have already conducted over 100 interviews to gain input,” Gassaway said. “This team is led by the Chabin Group with others having individual roles, including Marheter, MC2, Economic Forensics & Analysis, Keyser Marston Associates and Urban Scenarios. Together we will create a plan in synch with Solano County’s strategy.”
To provide business assistance, through March, Fairfield distributed $430,000 in local business grants funded by the Cares Act in increments of $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000 based on the size of the employer. There were 340 applicants but only 73 could be granted. Now with the new Rescue America plan, Gassaway said the city council is deciding where to put this new money to benefit the economy.
“There is a new mentality in Fairfield. We want to be more business friendly because business success is Fairfield’s success,” said Gassaway.
We’re busier than we have ever been in the history of our city when it comes to non-residential development,” said Greg Folsom, Suisun city manager.
Projects under construction include an 83-room four story Holiday Inn Express, a two-story Solano Transportation Authority office building with a rooftop terrace, along with Suisun Gas and Food (a Fatburger restaurant and a 76 station) with three retail spaces, in addition to a 7-Eleven convenience store with gas station.
Entitlements have been granted for the Shryne Group Cannabis Business Zone, including a commercial cannabis business permit and retail dispensary at 521 Railroad Ave. Another project is well as a 6,100-square-foot Zip-Thru Carwash.
Development applications have also been received the Marina Center self-storage 180,000-square-feet of space on 4.73-acres of vacant land; the Element 7 cannabis dispensary at 300 Railroad Ave. and the Cannabissary dispensary south of Railroad Avenue.
Environmental Impact Reports are underway for two large commercial buildings. The Suisun Logistics center will have 2.05 million square feet of high-cube industrial space, with a conservation area proposed to the south, and the Highway 12 Logistics Center with approximately 1.28 million square feet of space north of Cordelia Street and west of downtown.
An agreement is in place to sell an 8.29-acre parcel owned by the city housing authority to Sutter Retail Development for commercial use.
A $150,000 Local Early Action Planning (LEAP) grant was received from the California Department of Housing and Community Development to update the city’s housing element and possibly to fund new permitting software, along with an Senate Bill 2 grant to prepare due diligence work to advance housing development in Suisun’s priority development area.
Folsom said the city’s staff is updating the Title 18 Zoning Code and developing a “good neighbor” policy for developers to use as they build off direction provided by the city council, plus information gathered at prior workshops, to set a policy clearly specifying applicant outreach and staff notification for discretionary projects.