A slew of companies are relocating to Petaluma attracted by the cheap rents as well as the town’s high quality of life, according to Petaluma’s new development director.
An estimated 700 companies have submitted new business applications to the city this year, the same number of companies that filed applications for all of 2009.
Some of the bigger names include Novato businesses Torn Ranch, which makes gourmet chocolate, nuts and baked goods and Natural Comfort, a bedding importer along with Mountanos Brothers Coffee, based in South San Francisco, who have all leased or purchased office space in Petaluma over the past several months.
“If you are a company looking to expand, it’s not always easy to find 80,000 sq. feet but here there’s a lot of those spaces available here,” said Ingrid Alverde, who was hired in August to implement Petaluma’s economic development plan. “It’s really becoming a location of choice.”
Other business who have recently relocated to Petaluma include Lydia’s Organics, based in Fairfax, the Paul Mitchell School of Hair Design and CrossCheck, originally in Rohnert Park, which plans to relocate to a 40,000 square foot space on North McDowell Boulevard this month.
Part of the reason for the trend is that Petaluma’s high vacancy rate has pushed down prices for commercial real estate, making it much more affordable than in Marin County, Alverde said. But for many, cheap price is not the only reason for moving to town.
“We think it’s a great place to live and will be great place for our business,” said Mike Mountanous, owner of Mountanous Brothers Coffee, which bought the old 3M Building at 1331 Commerce Street earlier this year. “It’s the whole combination of things: the price, the location, the right size…I think my employees will be much better off in Petaluma.”
For Torn Ranch, which moved to its new location at 2198 S. McDowell Blvd. two weeks ago, the attraction was a bigger space. “We have an energy efficient space with skylights, low flow water,” said Deana Kay, Vice President at Torn Ranch. “In Marin, there wasn’t that much space available.”
To make sure the new arrivals are happy and to combat Petaluma’s reputation as a city that is “unfriendly to business, ” City Hall has implemented a new process where departments come together each week to review new business applications instead of having an application travel from department to department, as was done in the past.
“It cuts down on the miscommunication, it cuts down on the time and makes for a more efficient and coordinated process,” Alverde said. “The bigger the application, the more impact this changed system will have.”
Another change is that the M Group, the company to which the city outsourced its Planning Department starting last year, is now offering something called “First Hour Free,” where business applicants can ask questions and discuss any concerns for free without being charged the usual counter fees, Alverde said.
In addition, Alverde is working to list all available commercial real estate on its website and developing an informal program with the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce to welcome businesses to town, checking in with new companies to see if they have any questions and offer support.
“Petaluma is well poised to do what it needs to do to generate business,” Alverde said. “What we need to do is make sure there aren’t hiccups when businesses come to the city and try to get their permits processed; that it’s smooth and easy and as quick as possible and that they start generating jobs and revenue.”