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At Last! A Positive Change for Novato’s Business Community

An internal economic development group within the City of Novato Staff is making significant progress with a project to “showcase” downtown Novato as an enjoyable and rewarding place to shop and unwind. The project, led by Assistant City Manager Peggy Flynn, has picked up speed during the last six months and is beginning to show results.

Flynn and her group have proven that given sufficient time and room to make changes, the right group of staffers within City Hall can make positive change happen. Merchants appear increasingly encouraged by the group’s pro-active approach towards their welfare and welcome the increased support.

The interim results of the City Staffer’s efforts during the last six months were presented last week to the Economic Development Advisory Commission that serves as the liaison between City Hall and representatives of Novato’s business community. The near-term outlook is increasingly optimistic.

A key participant has been Jessica Deakyne – Senior Management Analyst for Economic Development and Lead on the City of Novato’s Business Outreach Pilot Program. Deakyne has invigorated the collection of data critical to accurately defining “the Novato business community”.

When Chris Stewart, the recently departed Economic Development Manager left, Novato faced a choice. Either continue a path primarily focused on driving growth in the life science sector as part of the North Bay Life Science Alliance, or refocus the economic development efforts with primary emphasis on promoting existing City businesses. The life science business development effort continues, but existing programs such as the “Shop Novato Local” project now receive increased support and attention by City Staff.

City Manager Regan Candelario has attended Economic Development Advisory Commission meetings to listen and provide an occasional comment rather than manage Staff discussions with members of the Commission. His attendance is critical as is that of Assistant City Manager Peggy Flynn.

Hard working Councilmembers Pat Eklund and Pam Drew routinely attend these meetings. Effective economic development is critical to the financial and overall economic health of the City. The members of the Advisory Commission provide City Staff with real-time in-depth insight on the Novato business community’s health.

The “Shop Novato Local” project has been the beneficiary of a redesigned website https://shoplocalnovato.com/ developed by the full-service marketing agency Kiosk. The re-tooled and still under construction website has increasingly engaged businesses and residents. The website responds to inquiries regarding where to find specific goods and services in Novato.

Located on Grant Avenue, Kiosk is an international agency led by COO Claire Knoles who knows digital marketing strategy and how to use marketing data analysis to drive business forward. Kiosk’s efforts are beginning to provide a commercial data base enabling economic development to be directed and decisions to be made based upon hard data rather than instinct.

Understandably, much of the current business development effort has been focused on the City’s retail sector. Growth in retail sales generates much needed additional sales tax revenue for the City. An increase in local sales tax revenue is quickly felt by the City’s treasury.

The Novato Chamber of Commerce’s (NCoC) grassroots involvement with the local retail goods and services sector is a major resource. The Chamber’s professional management staff can be a significant player supporting the City’s Economic Development group’s efforts.

The NCoC produces the annual Novato Festival of Art, Wine, and Music along with Halloween’s Scream on the Green for children. These have a very positive influence on the City, but in the eyes of many it sometimes comes with a steep price.

For example, the Novato Chamber of Commerce’s pervasive political influence extends from its endorsement of individual City Council candidates to the individual Chamber members willing to place Chamber-friendly political and event signage in their shop windows. The NCoC is inevitably compared to a shadow City administration powerful enough to leverage its NCoC endorsed Councilmembers to vote a rushed approval of spending millions on a SMART station at which no trains are currently scheduled to stop. Nor, is there any commitment from SMART to provide service to this white elephant. To the everlasting despair of SMART train opponents, the City agreed to donate the multi-million-dollar Novato funded station to SMART. That is fundamental political power.

On more positive news, the City’s well-run Business Outreach Program intends to engage the industrial and professional services business sectors of the City. Historically, CoC’s have offered few unique benefits to non-retail businesses. Flynn’s team will work on this issue directly with these firms.

A challenge for the City’s Business Outreach Program will be how to form a nexus with Novato’s resident professional services and industrial firms, and how to effectively promote their well-being. The intellectual assets and skill sets these two sectors typically possess add depth to an outside observer’s perception of the local business community’s sophistication and creates a richer sense of community for its citizens.

The prototypical perception of industry and high level professional services is one of creating and adding value while making and designing goods and/or unique services to be marketed and sold to other businesses. The requisite academic achievement level necessary for locally successful firms implies a community dedicated to the importance of excellence in educational achievement. The City of Novato has substantial work to do in this regard. Fast food franchises easily come and go. A biotech/life sciences industry does not.

With the recent changes in attitude toward local businesses at City Hall, Novato’s prospects for local economic growth are better than at any time in recent memory. Flynn, Deakyne and Knoles have developed significant forward momentum. Much work remains to be done. It is one thing to develop data, but it’s the accurate, comprehensive collection, and successful use of that data toward mutually agreed upon economic goals that enhance the economic health of our community. This is the true metric of success.

These are challenging times for the City. It is refreshing and encouraging to see that a part of City Staff is up to the task. And, when they succeed they should be publicly recognized. Their success is everyone’s success.

Author: Hutch Turner - Novato

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