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Business retention a high priority for Escondido

Escondido businesses are truly valued by the city. Business people serve as community leaders and provide jobs and revenue to keep the city healthy and strong. They are often generous supporters of many community organizations and activities, as well as the arts and culture.

Retaining and understanding the needs of business is a critical part of Escondido's economic development pro-business philosophy. In 1994, the city formulated and implemented the Business Retention & Expansion Program (BREP) to focus specifically on helping businesses grow and stay in Escondido.

BREP administrator, Lana Massimini, is on a first-name basis with many of Escondido's businesses large and small. "I'm always amazed at the diversity and entrepreneurial spirit of Escondido business owners, many of whom started their business in their home and grew them to multimillion dollar companies," said Massimini.

One example of Escondido-based entrepreneurial success is Ne-Mo's Bakery. In 1974, founder Ed Smith was mixing cheesecake batter in his baby's bathtub. In 1977, the company moved to Escondido to support a growing customer base of major distributors serving Southern California. Today Ne-Mo's 60,000-square-foot facility produces and distributes more than 100 million individually wrapped snacks -- from carrot cake and blueberry muffins to chocolate pudding cakes -- to thousands of convenience stores nationwide every year.

As part of the Escondido's retention efforts, more than 1,000 of the city's businesses have received personal visits from the program administrator, who often teams up with elected officials, city management staff or other local business people to discuss doing business in Escondido. This person-to-person approach has paid big dividends.

When the program started in 1994, many business people were eager to share stories of their not-so-favorable experiences in the local business environment. Now 98 percent of the businesses visited are pleased about their experience doing business in Escondido and credit the city's streamlined processes and interdepartmental cooperation.

Retention efforts have kept a number of businesses in Escondido, securing jobs and benefits for their workers. An unforeseen program benefit was the newfound sensitivity that the visitation teams gained by listening to businesses and helping with solutions to their problems. During the 2001 power crisis, BREP provided seminars on energy efficiency to educate businesses on cutting energy costs and connecting them to special programs and resources. A job fair was co-sponsored and brought 1,500 potential employees to the more than 50 participating businesses.

The city offers a number of incentives to businesses that expand or locate in Escondido. Incentives encourage lot consolidation, business environment improvements and revitalization including a matching $5,000 to $10,000 grant program. Other incentives can be requested through the Business Enhancement Zone, suitable for larger commercial and industrial projects involving new construction.

An Escondido business that recently took advantage of these incentives is Amron International. Founder Norma Ockwig recently retired and handed over the duties of company president to her daughter, Debbie Richie. The company has acquired major contracts with the federal government for military diving and hyperbaric equipment, and received the Defense Logistics Agency Vendor Excellence Award in February for the woman-owned small business category.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Amron has supported many military commands deployed and deploying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Efficient operations and an attractive work place are important to Amron's management team. They took advantage of a City Facade and Property Improvement Program for matching grants during a recent expansion and received $5,000 toward their $100,000 investment.

"The City's grant program is meant to be a catalyst for exterior improvements to business properties," Massimini said. "The result is an improvement for the business and its neighbors.

"We've found various matching grant programs to be very effective, with a minimum of 10 times the private investment for every dollar of grant money," she added.

For more information contact Massimini at (760) 839-4000 or lmassimini@ci.escondido.ca.us.

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