After a search that spanned more than five months, Petaluma’s civic and business leaders welcomed the city’s new economic development director at a reception held at the Petaluma Sheraton Thursday.
The city is placing high hopes on Ingrid Alverde to not only attract new companies, but also improve Petaluma’s image as a business-friendly town, which has been tarnished by the Target Regency lawsuit, high impact fees and delays on approving projects, according to critics.
Alverde spent 10 years in various redevelopment positions in Poway, Calif., a suburb of about 47,000 northeast of San Diego. While there, she worked on “business attraction,” bringing big box stores like Costco, Home Depot and Kohls to the community.
Now she says she wants to help revive Petaluma by marketing it to companies that are looking to relocate or expand.
“The downtown association has done a good job promoting Petaluma as a tourist destination,” Alverde said. “Now we need to do the same thing but orient it toward businesses.”
She said she would make a big emphasis on bringing businesses to existing industrial parks, vacated following the telecom bust, and working to reduce the city’s high rate of vacancies, which hovers at around 34 percent.
Her guiding document will be the Economic Strategic Plan, a $145,000 report approved last fall. Many hope it will be the much-needed prescription for a city suffering from dwindling sales and property taxes that have resulted in reduced city services and, now, impending layoffs.
The 150-page document focuses on eight target areas including food and beverage processing, information technology, diversified manufacturing, hospitality and health and wellness. Among its many plans is building high-end lodging downtown on par with the Sheraton and repurposing vacant buildings for municipal offices or organizations.
The plan also urges city officials to focus on defining the city's strengths and advantages or what it calls "the Petaluma product." Another suggestion calls for streamlining communications with companies interested in relocating to Petaluma, which Alverde said she will do by gathering informational materials and leading businesses of tours of the community.
Community leaders said they were excited to have Alverde on board and looking forward to working with her.
“She has the experience and a good attitude,” said Anthy O’Brien, chairperson of the Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee. “With Ingrid coming, we can show companies that Petaluma takes attracting business seriously.”