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Vista Business Park: Symbiosis with VEDA

The Vista Business Park is home to some big names in business, including Frito Lay, Aqualung, Eagle Creek and Pennysaver.

The industrial park plays a significant role in bolstering Vista's economic health, city officials say. In fact, it's so significant that the city created its own team to support and nurture it: the Vista Economic Development Association.

"So far it's been a very successful project," Vista Mayor Ed Estes Jr. said of the park.

VEDA's president, Pat Saunders, agreed, calling the business park "a major contribution to the financial viability of Vista."

The business park, which covers 1,200 acres in the southern part of Vista, is home to more than 603 firms and more than 21,000 employees.

That's no small number, considering that there are only 39,000 jobs in Vista, said Kevin Ham, the city's economic development director. Businesses located in the park account for almost 54 percent of the total number of jobs in the city.

VEDA was the brainchild of local businessman John Cosh, now retired. The association functions as the liaison between the city and the larger businesses in Vista, while the Vista Chamber of Commerce addresses the smaller businesses' needs.

One reason the park is so important to the city's economic well-being is that it employs people in the community in which they live, Estes said.

That keeps them off the highways, reducing traffic while contributing to the tax base of Vista, he added.

Plus, the employment opportunities have helped the city grow, said Adam Molnar, a broker with Coldwell Banker and VEDA's first vice president.

About 50 percent of the park's employees live in Vista, he added, and those people all spend money in Vista.

The city, which has a population just under 90,000, grew by 15,000 people in the 1980s as the business park was developed, Estes said.

The park has a diverse range of resident companies, which pleases VEDA, Molnar said.

"The more diverse your business park is, the easier it is to attract and grow new companies," he said.

However, VEDA hopes to bring in new businesses that are environmentally friendly and otherwise complementary to the community, but the competition for those kinds of companies is fierce.

"Everybody wants the same people," Saunders said. "Anybody in any business park will tell you that."

Resident companies include software firms, medical services companies, defense and transportation management firms, environmental technology companies, communications agencies and biotech firms. DJ Orthopedics (NYSE: DJO) currently employs the highest number of people and occupies the most square footage.

While Saunders said he cannot imagine another large-scale business park in Vista during his lifetime, he does want to maximize the existing park's area. Right now there is still room for expansion.

"I want to see the business park grow to the point where it's fully mature," Saunders said. "At a certain point in time, it's going to be built out just like everything else."

About 300 acres of the business park's land are still undeveloped, leaving some room for the park to grow. At the end of 2001, there were 831,752 vacant square feet remaining, according to Burnham Real Estate Services.

The park's vacancy rate increased during the 2000-2001 time period, but the rate hit a plateau and is now dropping, Molnar said.

While VEDA is trying to recruit new businesses, it's also working on keeping the ones already in the business park. It has created a special retention committee to determine the best ways to meet regulations while remaining business-friendly.

VEDA members contend that Vista now needs the Carlsbad City Council to approve the final quarter-mile extension of Melrose Drive from where it currently ends at the Vista city limits to where it picks up on Palomar Airport Road.

Melrose Drive runs close to the business park, and the road's completion would open up the traffic flow into that area, said Judy Ritter, Vista mayor pro tem.

"Right now it bottlenecks up at Business Park Drive," she said, adding that the road's extension would open up new possibilities for bus routes, too.

"It would definitely help out the business park," Molnar said. "It would help traffic (both) in and out."

And that could be an attractive feature to business park employers who want more transportation options for their employees, Ham said.

California cities could be facing budget cuts when the new fiscal year starts July 1, and if VEDA loses funding, that could directly affect the business park.

VEDA officials have already considered the possible loss of funds for their association.

"It's a very realistic concern, but VEDA has made contingency plans if that does indeed happen," Saunders said.

Larson is a free-lance writer based in San Diego.

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