Solano economic development head says 2018 was all about growth

January 31 2019

The Reporter

By Nick Sestanovich | |

PUBLISHED: January 30, 2019 at 5:57 pm | UPDATED: January 30, 2019 at 5:57 pm

The past year was one of growth not only for Solano County, but also for the Solano Economic Development Corporation, the latter’s CEO and President Bob Burris said Wednesday.

Gathered at the Hilton Garden Inn for the EDC’s annual meeting and luncheon, a packed crowd listened as Burris cited highlights for 2018.

These included implementing a 32-point plan action supporting the EDC’s vision of “Moving Solano Forward,” continuing to grow its investment and capacity, launching a new marketing platform and rapidly growing the number of prospects for new jobs in the region.

To the second point, Burris said the county’s revenue was 30 percent higher than the previous year. Private investments also grew by 45 percent.

Launching a new media platform, Burris said, was also key to the EDC’s growth and increased visibility. For one, its increased usage of digital media has allowed the organization to get information out to a wider audience.

“When you think about the large media sources that surround us, often times Solano is a little bit of a reach for a lot of those major stories,” he said. “What we needed to do as an organization was take advantage of digital media because as you look at digital media, that’s sort of becoming the primary information transmitter for a region of economic development or a company in terms of their marketing potential. We needed to take a serious look at that, and we’ve had tremendous results over the last six months.”

Burris talked about the growth in four targeted industries in moving the county forward: biotechnology and life science facilities, food and beverage production, advanced manufacturing and miscellaneous desired industries. Combined, the prospects for the four industries grew more than 30 percent between February and December.

“What we’re seeing in the total number of prospects in the growth fourfold over where we before,” he said. “We’re excited to say a lot of these new prospects, we went out and got them.”

Of these job prospects, Burris said about 76 percent were in the area of manufacturing, research and development, or both.

“That’s something that’s a little bit of a misnomer to what you hear generally in the brokerage communities and real estate outside of the region,” he said. “This is a great region for logistics and warehousing. We’re right on 80 and we can access those markets.”

However, he said logistics and warehousing were just “a sliver” of the types of companies county officials would want to see. He noted that manufacturing and research & development jobs bring in higher salaries, higher density of jobs per square foot and real estate and “more of a desire to invest more and stay longer.”

Burris highlighted a few initiatives that were launched, specifically the Retention Effort pilot program which originated in Vacaville through the city’s Economic Development Manager Don Burrus.

“Don came up with a fantastic idea: To gather all of the regional folks at the city chamber, Workforce Development Board, the EDC and specialists from the city that can help,” Burris said. “They go out on a routine basis and meet with priority employers to see ‘What do you need?'”

The program asks employers what they would need to grow, expand and remain in Vacaville.

“That has been wildly successful,” Burris said. “It was a simple idea, but sometimes it takes that simple idea to gather everybody together and hit the road.”

Burris said EDC is looking to roll out such a program throughout the rest of Solano.

To improve its marketing, Burris said the EDC has been hitting the road to meet with companies in their home regions and attend conferences. He said the organization has also revamped its social media platforms which has resulted in a new wave of activity.

Illustrating this, Burris brought up marketing professional Alaina Gjertsen to deliver an update on EDC’s social media upgrades. She said this included refreshing the site’s visuals, creating new templates for emails and incorporating more custom photography and videos.

Gjertsen further noted that since the revamp, engagement on the EDC social media sites has risen by 11,600 percent, post views have increased by 1,900 percent and followers have grown by 172 percent.

“That’s because people are sharing,” she said. “Even if they weren’t already aware of what we were doing, they’re excited about what we’re producing and they’re sharing it with those that they know.

Additionally, Gjertsen said the EDC website receives an average of 773 new visitors each month and an average of 947 total viewers each month. She also said the site has gotten hits from as far away as the Netherlands.

“Our message is resonating beyond Solano,” she said.

A guest speech was given by Matt Gardner, the CEO of the California Technology Council and an adjunct professor at the University of California, San Francisco. He discussed new approaches to learning through online courses and new approaches to working through freelancing, among other topics.

The meeting was also the last for Louise Walker, the EDC’s chairwoman for the past two years and the president of First Northern Bank. For her service, Walker was given an honorary gavel by Burris.