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."