Monday, October 31, 2011

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