Team Gilroy and the future of economic development

After only eight months, Gilroy is once again searching for an
Economic Development Director. The quick resignation adds to
sputtering agenda for business
After only eight months, Gilroy is once again searching for an Economic Development Director.

Richard Spitler has resigned to take over the reins as city manager in Calistoga, the town that he lives in. Therein lies lesson one. Gilroy needs an EDC Director who lives in this town. It makes a huge difference. People talk to you at the grocery store. You get a cup of coffee and learn something new about someone. You attend a weekend event and have a thought about helping out a new business or make a new contact.

Living in Gilroy is an absolute prerequisite for the next EDC Director. As the EDC Board ponders the upcoming process, we suggest that the Board seriously consider adding some fresh perspectives from the business community.

Broadening the support base should help clarify the EDC mission and, perhaps more importantly, form the basis for a coalition that could help the EDC with a business agenda.

Part of that agenda may well be as numerous leaders suggested, to lobby the City Council for full EDC funding for at least two or three years. The EDC isn’t just about bringing one business at a time to Gilroy. It’s larger than that. It’s about creating a climate that attracts and keeps business here and incubates it.

It’s not too far a stretch to use a San Francisco Giants World Series championship analogy. The winning combination included scouting talent, incubating that talent in a minor league system and bringing in new talent to augment and complement what already existed. Team Gilroy needs the same type of approach.

The same-old, same-old isn’t going to work. Mr. Spitler is exactly right when he says, “the rules of the game that applied in 2005 don’t apply anymore. If you step out of City Hall to the business sector, everyone is trying to survive.”

To a large degree, this translates into “the retail madness is over.” Westfield Inc. isn’t coming to Gilroy anytime soon with a huge mall that will fatten up the city coffers so Gilroy can once again unnecessarily pay for four firefighters to staff each engine.

Gilroy has to help itself. What more can we do, for example, to hire local contractors and/or subcontractors for public buildings like Christopher High School and the new library?

There has to be a new vision – and City Hall must either assist in leading that new vision, follow other leaders like the EDC or get out of the way. Mr. Spitler gently points out that the culture at City Hall needs massaging. In fact, the culture is not friendly to business. It’s mostly obstructionist and, ironically, the city doesn’t seem to understand that a vibrant local economy is the ticket to avoiding the layoffs, the furloughs and the shut-the-public-out Fridays that have negative communitywide implications.

Where does Gilroy go from here?

Well, the Chamber of Commerce has named Large and Small Businesses of the Year going back for a number of years. How about recruiting a dozen entrepreneurs who top that list to review the current EDC plan? How about complementing that with a creative thinker or two from the Arts Alliance? How about flying in someone from a “success town” to talk to the group.

There are plenty of good people in Gilroy with good ideas to help the city re-form an economic team and answer some questions like: Does the EDC Director’s job description need re-tooling? Should the EDC agenda include lobbying for funding a full or part-time downtown events coordinator? What should be the EDC’s agenda and how is that communicated publicly?

Perhaps after Mr. Spitler leaves, the EDC should hire a facilitator to tackle the tasks which should be addressed before the next hire is made.

Once that work is done, a Roundtable Study Session with the City Council should help push the agenda ahead. The champion for economic development can’t be just one person, it has to be Team Gilroy and the agenda for success has to be clear and backed by a strong coalition.

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