EDC interim president trying to bring home the business

Tammy Brownlow, the President and CEO of the Gilroy Economic Development Corporation.

With vacant downtown storefronts wanting for entrepreneurs and a
fragile economy crawling through infant stages of recovery, there’s
no disputing economic revitalization is a hot topic in Gilroy.
Spearheading financial renaissance in the garlic mecca is a
collaborative endeavor forefront on the to-do list for city
officials, and a key player in that effort is Gilroy’s Economic
Development Corporation.
With vacant downtown storefronts wanting for entrepreneurs and a fragile economy crawling through infant stages of recovery, there’s no disputing economic revitalization is a hot topic in Gilroy.

Spearheading financial renaissance in the garlic mecca is a collaborative endeavor forefront on the to-do list for city officials, and a key player in that effort is Gilroy’s Economic Development Corporation.

Though EDC’s work groove has been interrupted by changing hands, Tammy Brownlow – who began her six-month term as EDC interim president Dec. 6 when former president Richard Spitler stepped down in November after eight months on the job – is diving in head first.

As EDC’s one-woman show, besides her part-time secretary, Brownlow’s attention is locked on addressing important tasks at hand.

Founded in 1996, the nonprofit agency focuses exclusively on economic development within Gilroy by promoting and facilitating business growth.

“There are very specific things we need to focus on,” she said without pausing to think before launching into specifics.

She said this includes providing assistance for retaining and expanding businesses already rooted in Gilroy, business recruitment and development, assistance for small businesses and entrepreneurs, community improvement, workforce development and maintaining investor relations.

Brownlow explained the EDC is more or less the face of the city; a quick-reference fountain of knowledge and champion of everything Gilroy has to offer when it comes to hooking in prospective business ventures looking for a place to settle.

Be it an intimate floral shop or a large industrial company such as Monterey Gourmet Foods, Inc., the EDC president networks, provides outreach to commercial brokers, develops an inventory of available properties and keeps tabs on the industrial/retail lay of the land, so to speak.

“I know what’s out there,” said Brownlow. “So if somebody calls my office and says, ‘Hey, I’m looking for 50,000-square-feet of manufacturing space,’ I have that at my finger tips.”

Not only that, but Brownlow encourages smaller entrepreneurs to contact her with inquiries pertaining to permits, creating a business plan or where to look for additional financing in today’s economic climate.

She also collects vital updates on demographic information for the city, maintains a community profile and inventory of commercial properties – her big project right now is revamping the EDC’s website. These are all vital things the city needs to have on hand when recruiting new businesses, she said.

The interim position is designated for a six-month period, at which time the EDC board will review progress and determine next steps.

Brownlow is a former Morgan Hill economic development project manager who has managed a nonprofit organization similar to the EDC in the past. With 20 years of experience in economic development programs and practices behind her, she said she’s committed to the cause and hopes to secure the gig for the long-haul.

“Well, I hope that turns out to be the case,” she said over the phone Dec. 28. “I’ve hit the ground running. I have a handle on what’s going on in Gilroy, and I’m continuing to do what I do best.”

The EDC is a constructive asset when it comes to community growth, conveyed Brownlow, but as budget cuts tighten tourniquets on resources, it’s in the same boat as other city programs and agencies.

“The EDC is suffering from some budgeting problems right now,” explained Brownlow. “A lot of donations have come from the development community, but no development is coming in right now, so resources are limited.”

grappling with budget cuts

Almost 20 percent of EDC funding, which comes from the City of Gilroy, the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce and from the corporation’s 23 business partners, was cut in 2009.

The EDC now has a city-allotted $96,000 budget, down from $120,000 in fiscal year 2008-2009.

Mayor Al Pinheiro believes a starved EDC has a direct effect on the lack of businesses coming to Gilroy, and said the bad economy has been to blame when Spitler announced his resignation in early November.

“We’re not a city that has funding to put money on the table to bring in a new industry,” Pinheiro said, agreeing EDC’s role as personable liaison between Gilroy and potential local business owners is paramount. “It makes it much tougher to compete with other cities that do have the abilities to offer incentives.”

He mentions Monterey Gourmet Foods, Inc., from Salinas, and Silva Sausage from San Jose. Pinheiro, the City of Gilroy and EDC were involved in developing relationships with both companies, which relocated to Gilroy this year and created hundreds of new jobs.

“When there’s somebody new coming to town, EDC visits them, works with them, open its doors to help them with whatever they can,” said Pinheiro, who explained any new company that comes to Gilroy creates a positive domino effect toward other industries such as housing, stores and banks.

Silva Sausage President Fernando Martins said the EDC helped his company with expediting a number of permit issues.

“They asked us if there was anything they could do for us,” he said. “They did put that branch for us to reach out, if we needed something.”

Local developer Gary Walton, who serves on the Downtown Gilroy Specific Plan task force, feels rather than cutting back on the budget for EDC, it needs to be supplemented.

“(The city) needs to have a clear vision of what we need to do in terms of an EDC plan, and basically run – not walk – to accomplish that plan and get some decent paying jobs in the community.”

EDC Board Chairman Kurt Michielssen said right now, the corporation is scrutinizing funding needs, and figuring out what it’s capable of doing as far as providing services to new and existing businesses within the city.

“At this point, Tammy is on board, and for the short period she’s been here, I’ve been very pleased,” he said.

Michielssen said Brownlow’s current focus is identifying the EDC’s needs, and continuing to support new and existing businesses.

“As far as looking down the line,” he said, “the board has not looked six months out at this point.”

Having a consistent go-to person who sustains partnerships and maintains relationships is crucial, said Brownlow, asserting someone needs to be the familiar face of EDC in the community.

She inserted a note of optimism, pointing out there is activity in the air in terms of new businesses, such as Mi Pueblo Food Center on First Street.

“But things are tight all over. Particularly in this type of economic condition, this is really the time where you need to ramp up your EDC; not brush it under a rug,” she pointed out. “People really need the assistance. It’s time to position the community for when recovery does happen.”

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