Finally, economic development may get some real attention

Bob Richardson A developing story

Bob Richardson
A developing story

Grass Valley officials made it clear this week that economic development is high on the list of things to do for new city manager Bob Richardson.

How much he’s actually able to accomplish will depend on whether Grass Valley’s movers and shakers are ready for an attitude change.

Richardson, who held the same position in Auburn for 10 years, was chosen after the ever-popular nationwide search turned up the city’s man just 25 miles away. He signed a five-year contract with a base of pay of $163,000, 20 percent more than his predecessor, Dan Holler, earned. His first day in Grass Valley will be Feb. 10.

Grass Valley Mayor Dan Miller made it clear Auburn’s success in revitalizing its downtown and adding several new retailers during Richardson’s tenure was a big factor in the City Council’s unanimous decision to hire him. Apparently he’s expected to do the same thing in his new job.

“He understands redevelopment and economic development,” Miller told the Auburn Journal.

Richardson professed to see real possibilities in Grass Valley’s economic future. “I think Grass Valley can be nicely repositioned to have a better economic presence,” he told the Journal.

The Auburn area has experienced a boom in big box retailers in recent years, with the opening of a Best Buy and Home Depot. Construction will begin soon on a Wal-Mart and land has apparently been selected for a Costco. All of these stores are on county property, and Wal-Mart in particular was vehemently opposed by residents of the town.

The fear in Grass Valley is that these stores will suck even more retail dollars out of the county, which loses an estimated $200 million in retail sales every year to surrounding counties. One of Richardson’s jobs will be to stop the bleeding.

One way to stop the bleeding is to bring chain stores to Grass Valley that dissuade residents from shopping elsewhere, and that may be a real challenge for the new city manager.

No big box stores will come to the western county–we’re too close to Auburn–and Grass Valley’s downtown retail establishment, which has strong support on the City Council, isn’t excited about getting any more competition.

Miller also cited the revitalization of downtown Auburn during Richardson’s tenure, saying, “We looked at what he did in Auburn, and Auburn looks great.”

Miller could have added that anything looks better after you traverse the stretch of Highway 49 from Bell Road to Interstate 80, a monument to non-planning. That mixture of commercial and light industry makes our Burger Basin look like an upscale shopping area.

Richardson will be the city’s first city manager–Grass Valley’s giving up the city administrator form of government–and he’ll have to educate the council, staff and public on how it works. Miller also said the city’s looking at consolidating fire services, has budgetary challenges, and needs to update policies and procedures.

But that’s all in the future. Everybody’s talking nice, just as they did when Holler was hired, and Miller won’t be around to deal with the consequences of his vote if he’s elected to the county Board of Supervisors.

But it’s nice to see that at least one government agency in the county might actually emphasize economic development instead of just talk about it.

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One Response to Finally, economic development may get some real attention

  1. MtnFuzzy says:

    Hi George,
    Enjoy your new column. Regarding economic development, I sent an email to Mr. Katz, the developer of the new shopping complex at Combie/Hwy49, asking him to consider putting in a Food 4 Less. Apparently Trader Joes, my second choice, is not interested. Originally Bel Air was going in but that would be a big mistake. I shopped Food 4 Less where I used to live (been here 3 years) and it was an excellent market, like a smaller version of Winco. There is no discount supermarket anywhere in the north county so a Food 4 Less would be a draw. (Grocery Outlet in Auburn is too small and limited.) As I told Mr. Katz, Bel Air is way too expensive. Wealthy people will shop at Food 4 Less but people of modest means (like me) won’t shop at Bel Air. Plus, when Walmart and Costco are built in Auburn, you will hear Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound” of traffic headed from NC/GV/PV/AS/LW/LOP, etc. down to Auburn. I don’t know if Walmart will also have a food section, but if it doesn’t, the Food 4 Less at Combie would be packed all the time. The new city manager in GV is going to have a very difficult time. When WalMart comes in, the KMart in GV will lose business. With no other big box stores (other than Hills Flat), shopping will be the large food/drug chains, and smaller niche stores. As the middle class continues to get squeezed, the incentive to shop at WM/Costco will only increase. I live in Lake of the Pines, but if Bel Air comes to Combie, I’m heading in to Auburn for everything.

    MtnFuzzy

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