Here is more for the debate on what is good for Richmond business. Below is the response from a leading commercial real estate broker to my questions: “ In the commercial real estate market, what would you say are Richmond's three strongest advantages and three most important disadvantages, and, in your opinion, why is Richmond the ‘low price leader?’"
Let me start by saying that business owners consider many variables when deciding where to locate their business. Marin County/Berkeley/Emeryville companies love Marin County/Berkeley/Emeryville because it is close to where they live and it is close to where most of their employees live. The employees can bike to work, have many options for lunch, and are surrounded by similar young workers. The business owner also likes the fact that these areas are somewhat safe, and are conveniently located to the Bay Bridge and SF. Richmond really does not have these luxuries. The business owner does not live in Richmond and neither do the employees. It is not perceived as safe and it is not really convenient to the Bay Bridge and SF.
The building stock in Richmond is also an issue. Most of the buildings are old. While Marin County/Berkeley/Emeryville buildings are on the second, even third generation of transformations (offices, facades, codes compliances, power, loading, etc...), many of Richmond's buildings have not been renovated in years.
But don't get me wrong, Richmond does have a lot to offer. Value is one. Business owners are always looking at their bottom line. I would say that 90% of all inquiries I get are from business owners that are considering Richmond because they heard it is cheap. The problem is that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Until we get companies that are not in Richmond to save a buck, that want to spend money upgrading their facility and their surroundings, rather than just occupy on the cheap, we are not going to see the gentrification that these other markets take for granted.
Richmond also has a lot of land. More than maybe any other city in the Bay Area. That is our legacy. If we can manage progress (we can't dictate)such that Richmond is poised for the future, it could be a great place for business and living. We need to start by encouraging smart, new developments that meet the needs of the next generation of businesses. I talk to these developers every day. It's all about money. I wish the City had tons of money that they could use to bring development here because as it stands right now, tenant demand is not strong enough to justify development. Developers need to make their money. I guess the issue becomes what comes first, the chicken or the egg. Developers won't build until they can make a profit which needs tenant demand. Tenants won't move here and increase the critical mass necessary for more demand until there are decent buildings.
But while I compare Richmond to these other markets, we are much, much better than many others. It's a battle every day, but I see things getting better all the time. Richmond should be excited about the future.
The response speaks for itself, but I want to point out the following:
- There is no mention of any of the issues mentioned in Josh Genser’s January 17, 2013, editorial (Richmond Chamber of Commerce Editorializes on What is Business-Friendly, January 19, 2013)
- The attractions of competing cities include proximity to place of residence of building owners and employees. The implication is that Richmond is not the choice of either.
- Richmond is perceived as unsafe.
- Access to San Francisco is important (The ferry will help, and BART puts Richmond 45 minutes away).
- Quality of life amenities are important but in short supply in Richmond. Included are opportunities to “bike to work.” (Genser and the “pro-business” City Council members have criticized bike lanes. If they would talk to the experts, they would learn that bike facilities actually attract business, not the opposite).
- “Product” is a challenge for Richmond.
- Low cost is currently our most competitive attribute.
- Richmond has land (and the new General Plan 2013 is aggressively pro-growth).
I stick by my previous statements that the most pro-business policies Richmond can pursue are:
- Improving both the reality and perception of safety.
- Improving the quality of life, including – yes -- bike lanes.
- Improving both the reality and perception of proximity to San Francisco.
- Encouraging upgrading and rehabilitation of existing commercial real estate stock and the production of new stock on underdeveloped parcels near transportation and urban amenities such as housing, restaurants, trails and entertainment venues “smart, new developments that meet the needs of the next generation of businesses.”
All of these are embodied in the General Plan 2030.