Former Healdsburg redevelopment director to head Gilroy Economic Development Corp.

Richard Spitler

Richard Spitler may only have served as CEO and president of the
Gilroy Economic Development Corporation for one week, but he
already has made the rounds.
Richard Spitler may only have served as CEO and president of the Gilroy Economic Development Corporation for one week, but he already has made the rounds.

The former City of Healdsburg redevelopment agency director has attended City Council meetings, showed up at Gilroy Chamber of Commerce functions and started trying to lure businesses into Gilroy since he started March 8.

“I’ve hit the ground running,” Spitler laughed Tuesday.

The 57- year-old Calistoga resident has a long history of working in rural environments in municipal roles and experience working as a private consultant. He said he feels right at home in Gilroy, where he stays in an apartment during the week.

“I can’t believe the energy level in Gilroy,” Spitler said during the City Council’s goal-setting session last week. “People seem enthused and ready to tackle economic issues.”

The Glroy EDC receives funding from the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, the City of Gilroy and various businesses to attract business into Gilroy, support businesses that are already here and encourage economic development in general. Spitler replaces Richard Zahner, who served as interim president after Larry Cope resigned from the CEO post in April 2009. Spitler will earn $90,000 plus benefits.

Looking ahead, Spitler believes the city could draw more hospitality businesses, such as hotels. In addition, he said Gilroy has many manufacturing vacancies, and he plans to help with downtown revitalization.

At the same time, he believes Gilroy already has a lot going for it, mentioning its strong presence of retail businesses.

“Phase one” of his new position will be to get to know the people of Gilroy and their values, he said.

Spitler got the economic development bug while working as director of Healdsburg’s redevelopment agency. In that role, Spitler oversaw housing programs and worked on projects in Healdsburg’s downtown, among other economic development work. He retired from that position in July after having worked there since 1996, then ran his own consulting business to help developers get through the planning process.

Spitler also served in city planning roles for the cities of Fairbanks, Alaska as well as Clear Lake, Calistoga and Sebastapol.

The University of California, Santa Cruz graduate started out in Alaska working for the state’s Department of Natural Resources, and said he initially was a “rabid environmentalist.”

However, his views started to mellow into more of a conservationist perspective as he visited hunting and fishing villages in Alaska and listened to other people’s viewpoints, he said.

One of his goals for Gilroy is to promote a recycling center in the area as a way to increase the city’s recycling diversion rate from 50 percent to 75 percent.

Spitler was one of more than 35 applicants for the CEO position from across the United States, said Kurt Michielssen, chairman of the EDC board. The EDC began looking for applicants in November and made the final decision in February.

Spitler’s experience in planning and public works as well as his private-sector work as a consultant for developers made him a great candidate, Michielssen said.

“He’s worked on both sides of the desk,” he said.

Jane Howard, executive director of the Gilroy Visitors Bureau and a former board member of the EDC board, said Spitler brings to the table a broad background as a liaison between Healdsburg’s chamber of commerce, downtown association, visitors bureau and city-run hospitality organization. When it comes to economic development work, Spitler “gets it,” Howard said.

“He’s very solution-minded,” Howard said. “He’s optimistic. He sees opportunities here.”

Zahner will work alongside Spitler at the EDC during the transition period. The interim president helped the EDC find direction while it searched for a permanent director, Michielssen said.

“(Zahner) had some wonderful organizational skills that we needed to help us with building our business plan and with our search (for a new CEO),” he said.

Spitler has plenty of work ahead of him as he takes the helm. Howard recounted how he told her this week that he felt he had learned six months of information in eight days. Still, he is looking forward to the challenge.

“I’m eager to jump into it and be of help,” Spitler said.

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