Monday, October 31, 2011

Solano County leaders told businesses can thrive here

Posted: 10/28/2011 01:03:26 AM PDT

The woes of the American economy are well known but Solano County has opportunities to turn lemons into lemonade, if its business and civic leaders act now.
That was the message real estate experts brought to local business and civic leaders Thursday at an annual county "real estate roundup," sponsored by the Solano Economic Development Corporation.

"The body is not well," Brooks Pedder, managing partner and director of Colliers International in Fairfield, a commercial real estate firm, told the group. "You are the immune cells and we need to wake you up to assist us in getting out of this."

Pedder repeated a message he said he brought to the group two years ago, that local civic leaders can't control the financial market or state and federal hurdles, but they can do something different -- like reducing or waiving development "impact fees."

His reasoning was it would give local communities an advantage over their competition and help produce jobs that might not otherwise be created.

Instead, in the past two years, revenue from fees wasn't generated because, according to Pedder, buildings weren't built, deals weren't completed and jobs weren't created. On top of that, approximately 2,000 jobs were lost in 2010-11, he said.

"The gains we made in 2006 have evaporated in the last 18 months," he said. "As a region, Solano has lost almost all positive momentum from the past three decades."

Pedder didn't deny that companies are still looking to leave California, but he said Solano County can do something about it.

"We need to be the alternative to the rest of the state," he said. "We need to rebrand ourselves."

He explained that Solano County needs to think, "There is no way we don't have what you need."

The county has plenty to offer, he said, noting its large, diverse labor pool, the opportunity for workers to cut their commute, affordable housing prices, its location midway between Sacramento and San Francisco, its close proximity to major universities, and its wealth of available buildings and land.

"We are a deal-making region, but we're losing our practice," Pedder said. "Get ready. Hopefully we can get you busy again. I don't have all the answers, but you guys are the key. Let's fix it."

There are other positives for Solano County.

Chuck Shaw of ICSC Northern California said Solano has "eight lanes of retail bliss" on Interstate 80.

"That's what the corridor does for you," he said. "There is strong retail sales and very unique property."

He encouraged the group of business and civic leaders to stay the course because local government has worked to patiently make sound decisions.

Shaw explained that the county has a key opportunity in developing the Solano County fairgrounds in Vallejo. Solano360, the county project to redevelop the property that sits along Interstate 80, is a great opportunity, Shaw said, if planned carefully.

"It's a huge undertaking and I wish you success in that," he said. "You are in considerably better shape than everyone else."

Mare Island landmark building now home to Blu Homes

FAIRFIELD — Workers once built parts for submarines in massive, historic Building 680 on Mare Island, before the Mare Island Naval Shipyard closed in 1996.

Now workers will build prefabricated homes there, homes that are energy-efficient, constructed using green methods and designed so they virtually fold up for convenient shipping to their foundation. Long-vacant Building 680 is getting a new tenant in Blu Homes.

“That is now our crown-jewel plant,” Blu Homes co-founder Maura McCarthy said. “This plant is the biggest plant we have. Ironically, even though it’s a beautiful, old historic building, it’s going to be an extremely modern plant.”

The Navy constructed the building at the dawn of World War II and made it big. The structure is 257,750 square feet and has a central bay that is the equivalent of 10 stories tall.

And Building 680 is more than just another Mare Island industrial building for an additional reason. It has a sign at its top saying “Mare Island Naval Shipyard” that can be seen from the other side of Mare Island Strait along the Vallejo waterfront, giving it a high profile.

But the days of building propellers and periscopes there are gone. Blu Homes will be constructing homes that have most everything in place prior to shipping, from the electrical and plumbing systems to the cabinets.

These homes range in price from about $166,000 to $495,000 and more. They come with names such as the Element and Breezehouse. They have steel frames, high ceilings and lots of windows.

Don’t think of the relatively simple-looking prefab homes that get hauled down the freeways in two halves. These are fancier buildings.

“The name ‘Blu’ comes from the idea of building something that’s beautiful and green,” McCarthy said. “These houses are like the Lexus hybrid. They are high-quality, really durable.”

After being built at the plant in six to eight weeks, the homes are folded almost like origami, trucked to a foundation and then unfolded, McCarthy said.

A video posted at shows how this works. The home sections arrive at a site looking like rectangular boxes. A crane then unfolds parts of the box, revealing a house with a far different shape over the course of a couple of days.

Blu Homes looked at some 25 sites in various states before settling on Building 680. One thing the Mare Island building had in its favor was its sheer size and height.

“We need to be able to build a two-story building,” McCarthy said.

Then there’s its location. The plant will be industrial, but use high-tech software. McCarthy said Mare Island is near to Silicon Valley and that such other possible plant locations as Arizona don’t have “the type of powerhouse brain trust” that can be found in the Bay Area.

Plus, Tom Steyer encouraged Blu Homes to locate in California, McCarthy said. Steyer is founder of Farallon Capitol Management and co-founder of OneCaliforniaBank, as well as an environmentalist.

Blu Homes might employ 50 or so workers on Mare Island, but could ultimately offer hundreds of jobs, McCarthy said.

“It all depends on demand,” she said. “Everybody is suffering a little bit in housing right now. The good news is this kind of housing is a bright spot in the housing industry.”

And Building 680 is now a bright spot in Mare Island’s ongoing, time-consuming and often painful rebirth after the naval shipyard got shuttered 15 years ago.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or

Solano EDC meeting focuses on real estate

FAIRFIELD — Solano County could be “The Other California” for businesses looking to flee or avoid the state.

That was one of the ideas that Brooks Pedder, managing partner at Colliers International, brought up at Thursday’s Solano Economic Development Corp. breakfast. He spoke at the corporation’s annual “real estate roundup” presentation.

California as a whole in Pedder’s view is a place businesses are leaving or avoiding for numerous reasons. Pedder suggested Solano County be an alternative — a kind of oasis for business within the state — and lower development impact fees as a way to show its uniqueness.

“Let’s repackage ourselves,” he told the 150 or so business and civic leaders attending the event.

A key to marketing “The Other California” is the Solano EDC, given that individual cities don’t have the “band width” to broadcast such a message by themselves, he said.

“We don’t want to become a permanent economic victim,” Pedder said. “We’re not there yet. We need to turn on the switch. You guys here are the key. We have a lot of empty buildings. We need your help.”

Development fees help pay for infrastructure and other costs. Pedder’s argument is that while reduced fees bring in less money, having no development brings in no money, and no jobs either.

The industrial vacancy rate is 14.4 percent. To see speculative buildings constructed, the rate would have to be about 5 percent, he said.

Like other speakers, he mentioned the importance of job creation to the local economy. Solano County’s unemployment rate is 11 percent.

“We have a form of cancer — let’s call it ‘we need jobs’ ” he told his audience.

But he saw strengths to help market “The Other California.” Local housing prices are once again competitive. The county has a good location between Sacramento and the Bay Area. It is near the Universities of California at Berkeley and Davis, he said.

Kevin Ramos, chief investment officer with Buzz Oates, said Solano County is a Bay Area suburb. Bay Area markets firm up from west to east, so the economic growth in parts of the Bay Area could reach Solano County in two to three years, he said.

Among the challenges facing Solano County is being part of California, with its overreaching regulations, he said. Also it has a “tweener” location and some businesses may decide they want to be either in the Bay Area or Central Valley, he said.

He called the building fees in the county “moderately high,” adding that his firm sees higher fees in some areas and lower fees in others.

Chuck Shaw of Fite Development Co. talked about retail. Solano County retail isn’t as healthy as Bay Area retail, but is much better off than Central Valley retail, he said.

Shaw sees the county as having an ace-in-the-hole when it comes to retail development. He called Interstate 80 “eight lanes of retail bliss.”

Solano County has 20.3 million square feet of retail space and an 8.3 percent vacancy rate. That’s not so bad, Shaw said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fairfield brewery gets mammoth wind turbine to power plant

FAIRFIELD — Fairfield on Friday got a new landmark.

Anheuser-Busch and Foundation Windpower assembled a white wind turbine with a tower some 320 feet tall at the Budweiser brewery along Interstate 80. Hundreds of such mammoth turbines are in place 10 miles to the east in rural Montezuma Hills pastureland, but this one is in Fairfield city limits.

Brewing beer at Budweiser should soon be a breeze. Plant General Manager Kevin Finger estimated the turbine could provide 20 percent of the electricity for the brewery.

The local brewery sits amid a wind belt. That wind has even given the area its name. Supposedly, “Suisun” is the Patwin Indian word for the area’s famed west wind.

Finger is familiar with the area’s stiff winds that will soon give the brewery power. He commutes to work from Green Valley by bicycle and often must fight the breeze on his return evening trip.

As far as he knows, this is the first turbine at an Anheuser-Busch InBev facility, Finger said.

“To my knowledge, this is also the first at a brewery facility in the United States,” he said.

The General Electric turbine on Anheuser-Busch land is owned by San Francisco-based Foundation Windpower. Foundation Windpower has a 20-year agreement to sell the electricity to the brewery. The turbine will produce about 1,500 kilowatts of electricity per hour.

This turbine and associated equipment cost about $4 million, said Matt Wilson of Foundation Windpower. Power from the turbine should start going to the brewery on Nov. 2 or Nov. 3, he said.

On Friday morning, a crane with a boom extending even higher than the turbine tower prepared to lift the nacelle — a box the size of a mobile home that contains the gearbox and other equipment — to the top of the tower. It would then lift the three turbine blades to the nacelle for attachment.

That mammoth crane had to be assembled on the spot. Finger said it arrived on 27 tractor-trailer flat beds.

Anheuser-Busch has launched other renewable energy projects at the local brewery. The brewery gets 4 percent of its electricity annually from 6,500 solar panels covering about 6.5 acres. It has replaced about 15 percent of its natural gas use with methane that comes from brewing wastewater.

But none of these other efforts will draw the attention of passers-by on adjacent I-80. The turbine, in contrast, is hard to miss.

The turbine is “an environmental statement,” Wilson said.

And a big one at that.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Solano event addresses the future of real estate

Solano event addresses the future of real estate

EDC brings business leaders from all around
Times-Herald staff report
Posted: 10/19/2011 01:01:00 AM PDT

Trends and the immediate future of Solano County's commercial real estate market will be the focus of the Solano Economic Development Corporation's Oct. 27 breakfast meeting, organizers announced.

Leaders in the areas of office, industrial and retail properties will hold a panel discussion at the 2011 Real Estate Round-up, 7:30 a.m. at Fairfield's Hilton Garden Inn.

"This is an important event for anyone interested in gaining information about the opportunities that exist for growth in our commercial real estate," Solano EDC interim president Sandy Person said. "We've put together a great panel of leaders in the field which will share their views and 'best guesses' for what the next year will bring."

Sponsored by Pacific Gas & Electric Company, the event costs $25 for EDC members and $35 for non-members.

To register, call (707) 864-1855

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Positive economic news for Solano county

Positive economic news for Solano county

Published by The Reporter
Posted: 10/04/2011 01:02:37 AM PDT

A monthly newsletter from Solano Economic Development Corporation finds good job news for the local economy.

In the past month, four companies have announced plans to relocate and/or expand their operations in the county, Solano EDC noted. They will bring some 200 jobs to the area.

"In light of all the bad news from the state and national scenes, this is tremendous news for Solano County and shows the strength that will undoubtedly come when the economy finally begins its long awaited rebound," the EDC newsletter noted.

Companies that have announced plans include:

* Coda Automotive will complete assembly of its new Coda EV, all electric sedan, in Benicia, bringing about 50 jobs to the community. The firm expects to complete assembly and ship some 10,000 to 14,000 vehicles in the coming year.

* Altec announced it will expand its green vehicle operation in Dixon, increasing the job force to 200 employees there.

* Blu Homes will begin mass producing pre-built homes at Vallejo's Mare Island, employing 90 when it opens, with more expected as the production increases.

* enXco recently celebrated Shiloh III -- a $300 million expansion of its windmill farm operation between Rio Vista and Fairfield. The new project features 50 2.05 megawatt turbines and will generate more than 100 megawatts of power.

Tech sector finds home in Fairfield

Tech sector finds home in Fairfield

The business press is full of stories about how the technology sector is one segment of the Bay Area economy that is growing, even booming in some locations. Software, specialty electronics and small specialty manufacturers seem to thrive in our risk-taking, highly educated mega-regional setting. And, these companies provide quality jobs for those with the right skills.

Fairfield may not be considered part of Silicon Valley, but our city is home to a variety of technology companies that may fly under the radar. These interesting small companies (or branches of larger companies) help broaden the local economic base and provide unique products and services in the regional, national and even international market.

One unique company that has been in Fairfield since 2004 is Tronex Technology, Inc., located at 2860 Cordelia Road. Founded in Napa in 1982, Tronex manufactures precision hand-cutting tools that are used primarily by professionals engaged in electronics manufacturing (particularly in making printed circuit boards), wire and cable assembly, medical device manufacturing, scientific research and jewelry making.

“We manufacture top performing tools for a niche market that extends across the globe, including Europe and the Far East,” said Arne Salvesen, president of Tronex. “In many applications, our tools will be used for several hundred thousand cuts before they require sharpening. People are very often surprised that we actually manufacture in Fairfield as a lot of manufacturing has moved overseas. We use American specialty steel and other raw materials. We design and manufacture with such care that the performance of our tools is exceptional, which enables us to be competitive.”

Salvesen is an engineer and Harvard MBA who has become enamored with the business advantages of operating in Fairfield. He mentioned to us that he looked at several expansion sites in the region and chose Fairfield because it was centrally located and allowed Tronex employees the opportunity to live close to work. Salvesen also noted that both Solano Community College and Napa Valley College have played a vital role in employee training by providing classes in machine tool programming and drafting.

Large, international technology companies have also found Fairfield a good fit for their business plans. A newcomer to Fairfield, TenCate Advanced Composites, recently moved from Benicia into the former Tri Eagle Beverage space at 2450 Cordelia Road. The parent company, Royal TenCate, is based in The Netherlands and focuses on high-tech specialty fabrics and composites. Their markets include protective fabrics for firefighters, specialty military armors, space composites, geosynthetics, industrial fabrics and artificial turf. According to the company website, TenCate fabrics were worn by the responders to the recent industrial fire in northeastern Fairfield. TenCate will employ approximately 100 people in its Fairfield facility.

Fairfield also supports home-grown businesses as well. Dependable Plastics has operated for more than 25 years at 4900 Fulton Drive. Dependable custom manufactures plastic casings and coverings for medical devices and tools. They can make everything from simple hand-tool cases to full-scale machine coverings. Some of the coverings showcased on the company website are amazingly complex and intricate.

Technology companies look for a variety of things in choosing a location for their business including location, affordable and available space, cost of housing and an educated workforce. In addition to local community colleges, Solano County is the home of a local Workforce Investment Board, a private nonprofit organization that has been contracting with Solano County for 28 years to help with workforce education and job placement. According to Loraine Fernandez, program administrator, WIB uses individualized programs to help unemployed and displaced adults, youths and veterans with retraining and job advanced placement. Technology fields that are popular now with WIB clients include fiber optics and Internet security. WIB also offers a Career Center open to everyone. Interested people should visit the Solano Employment Connection Career Center, 320 Campus Lane in Fairfield.

The WIB is offering a Career Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at University of Phoenix, 5253 Business Center Drive. Call WIB at 863-3596 for more information or to register.

Economic Notes is an update from Fairfield City Hall written by Brian Miller and Karl Dumas of the Fairfield Planning and Development Department. They can be contacted at 428-7461 or email at or