Solano’s economic efforts continued in 2020 despite pandemic

January 02 2021

Daily Republic By Todd R. Hansen

FAIRFIELD — Solano County re-energized its Solano360 project with the selection of a new master developer for the redevelopment of the fairgrounds in Vallejo, and Vacaville formed a 300-acre California Biomanufacturing Center zone – both in the final quarter of 2020.

The final review of the Covid-19 pandemic on Solano County’s economy, however, will likely be on how many small businesses will have been lost.

A state stay-at-home order forced the closure of many businesses in the spring, and while many businesses ignored a second lockdown order in December, economists do expect many businesses not to survive.

The hope is that the original stimulus efforts helped greatly, and a second that gained momentum as 2020 came to an end, will also help.

“We anticipate some costs to the county outside of the CARES funding due to Covid-19. While we do not have these exact figures at this time, as they are still coming together, we expect some of the largest hits to include reduced revenues in realignment, public safety, health and social services and as a result of staffing reassignments,” a statement released by the county administration said. “. . . (I)t is important to note that some costs not covered by CARES may be eligible for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimbursement. These figures will become more clear as the county works through the budget process this spring.”

The county and cities anticipated a bigger fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic as they developed their 2020-21 budgets, but tax revenues came in better than anticipated due to the construction industry and online retail taxes.

That has helped local governments to maintain services, and just as important, likely prevented job cuts, officials said.

The Solano Town Center parking remains almost empty during the shelter-at-home order, Tuesday, May 5, 2020. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)

It will be as much a story in 2021 as it was in 2020.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, economic efforts throughout Solano County continued, though many agency efforts were focused on pandemic relief.

“Some of our highlights were . . . trying to help small businesses and educate them on (pandemic) support from state and federal government,” Robert Burris, president and chief executive officer of the Solano Economic Development Corporation, said in a phone interview. “We went to the point of developing an animation series to distribute.”

The Workforce Development Board of Solano County and the Small Business Development Center, as well as ag-based organizations, were active in those efforts as well.

The county and some of the cities received millions in federal CARES Act resources, much of which went to help small businesses and their employees. The EDC program covered the range of what kind of assistance was available, to tax issues.

But Burris also pointed to efforts toward growing the economy, including attracting new business and industry to the area.

Gotham Greens, for example, is a New York-based company that bought property north of Interstate 80 between Dixon and the University of California, Davis. It grows leafy greens in greenhouses, with the intent of 100,000 square feet of facilities in Solano County.

“They just started it up, again,” said Burris, noting the pandemic slowed its progress. “They are getting the land together and should be open by this time next year.”

Thistle, the packaged food company, also was slowed by Covid-19, but its Vacaville operation is back up and running, Burris said.

“We are spending a lot of time on life science companies looking at Vacaville, and a lot of food and food innovation companies,” Burris said.

To that end, Vacaville has established its 300-acre California Biomanufacturing Center zone as a location for those kinds of companies, as well as a related nonprofit to drive those efforts.

County officials continued longstanding economic development efforts as well.

The Board of Supervisors selected Industrial Realty Group/Jones Land LaSalle to enter into exclusive negotiations for the Solano360 Project, a nearly decade-old vision for reinventing the county fairgrounds into a destination and entertainment hub.

The latest plans, however, also include a significant housing element to help fund the project.

Burris also pointed to the Census 2020 work, saying the 74.1% response, while far from complete, is better than a lot of areas and will help Solano County receive its entitled funding, an important piece in the economic health of the county.

Other key economic points:

The 2019 Solano County Crop and Livestock report, issued in August, had a gross value of $372.11 million, the third straight year the production values increased, though only by 0.001% over 2018.

Almonds were the top crop with a gross value of $55.31 million.

The 70th annual report noted the top 10 crops as almonds, followed by processing tomatoes ($37.04 million), cattle and calves ($36.97 million), nursery products ($31.23 million) and walnuts ($27.49 million) rounded out the top five, followed by alfalfa-hay ($27.16 million), wine grapes ($21.59 million), sunflower seed ($15.66 million), wheat ($5.83 million) and sheep and lambs ($4.39 million).

“Industrial hemp, for better or worse, is in the crop report for the first time,” Agriculture Commissioner Ed King told the Board of Supervisors.

Hemp was listed only as part of the miscellaneous collection of crops within the Field and Forage Crops category. The estimated value based on incomplete data was about $2.8 million.

Hemp cultivation and processing also created a storm of controversy as the farms became targets of a host of criminal activities, which included gunfire and high-speed chases. The supervisors put a moratorium in place for 2020, then lifted that with a new ordinance that creates a specific growing zone in the county and a number of other tighter security and operational regulations.

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