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Mayoral candidates aim to please startups

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Councilman Carl DeMaio and Rep. Bob Filner offered dueling proposals for the San Diego startup community during a Tuesday night mayoral forum.

DeMaio used his experience starting two companies as proof of his understanding of this sector and its needs, while Filner used his public policy work to show that he could get the job done.

The forum was hosted by StartupCircle, an organization that brings entrepreneurs and resources together to support the burgeoning startup scene in San Diego, and questions were centered on issues important to this group.

DeMaio highlighted his business background, making it clear that he understands the issues entrepreneurs face in San Diego and has a plan to alleviate them.

Steps in this plan include cutting red tape for permitting and regulations, changing the culture at City Hall, and stopping the flight of capital and angel investors to other cities.

One specific solution to enticing investors was to increase the use of EB-5 financing.

Under the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program, foreign investors fund projects in specified regions and sectors at a $500,000 minimum level, with certain job creation requirements attached.

At the $1 million level, 10 new jobs must be created. In exchange for this funding, investors are given expedited visas with the promise of Lawful Permanent Resident status if they fulfill all EB-5 requirements.

DeMaio said utilizing this system would benefit San Diego and small businesses in particular.

“The EB-5 program is a win-win,” DeMaio said. “We get great human capital, we get these business people to come in, we get their children to come in and study at our universities, and we also receive financial capital of investment in our communities. We’re trying to make sure that that investment isn’t just in some big project, but rather, in my administration, our concept would be microloans and microfinancing for small businesses and startups.”

Filner’s proposals to benefit new and small businesses included increasing publicity of these companies through a “startup of the month” program, and convening leaders from the Southern California region for what he termed a “call to arms” meeting to increase venture capital.

The startup of the month initiative wouldn’t result in media attention alone, but in a startup contract with the city as well.

Filner said he agreed with DeMaio’s ideas on making San Diego more attractive for businesses, and that the decision came down to who could best follow through on the plans.

He cited his work as councilman on creating the Gaslamp District, along with previous policy implementation to benefit San Diego’s businesses, as evidence of his experience and commitment to this cause.

“I was on the City Council when we went through an earlier recession in the early '90s and I was chairman of an ad hoc development committee; in fact we wrote the first economic development plan,” Filner said. “We wrote a plan that not only incubated high-techs, it streamlined regulations and permitting for high-tech, and established a capital investment fund coming through the city guaranteeing loans.”

When each candidate was asked to commit to a specific startup-friendly initiative that they would enact in their first six months in office, DeMaio promised the creation of a deputy mayor for economic development and job creation position.

Filner said he would follow through on his proposed spotlight and consequential contract for a startup, as well as mandate that all public buildings be solar-powered within five years.

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