TOM BUTT E-FORUM: Mayor's Business Roundtable

blogimage.jpgOne of the initiatives I announced in my State of the City presentation in January is the Business Roundtable. A healthy business climate in Richmond is essential to increase jobs, increase municipal revenue and increase economic diversity and opportunity.

I wanted to find out in a local public policy context what is working and what is not from successful businesses that have recently decided to make Richmond their home. Our first Business Roundtable was held at Richmond Country Club on March 26 and was attended by about 40 individuals. It was sponsored by Comcast, which paid for all the expenses. We had to turn away a lot of people because of limited seating, but hopefully they will get to attend subsequent roundtables.

Following is a summary of the three presentations. I asked each of them to share why they moved to Richmond, what is working for them and what is not, and what public policy changes we could make as a city government to encourage business attraction, expansion and startups.

Blue Apron – DiemMy Duong presenting

-Blue Apron was founded in August 2012 in New York and expanded to Richmond in September 2012, where here are 400 employees. The volume of meals is now over 30,000.

The company is now at capacity, working 24/7 and expects to expand, adding 300 more employees in the next two months. Currently Blue Apron occupies 45,000 square feet but needs to expand to 130,000 square feet. Blue Apron wants to stay in Richmond.

Constraints on operations and growth include a lack of public transportation for employees and frequent but unpredictable blockage of grade crossings by trains that delay employees 10-45 minutes from getting to work on time.

Motivation to move to Richmond included available space and attractive price.


Nutiva – John Roulac presenting

Nutiva was founded in 1999 and moved to Richmond in 2012 from Ventura County. The company specializes in high quality organic super foods, including coconut oil products, hempseed and hempseed oil products.

85% of raw material come in through the Port of Oakland, and Roulac noted the recent strike “almost killed us.” Nutiva has 125 employees and a 61% annual growth rate with a space of 140,000 square feet.

Nutiva is committed to supporting the community;  an example is sponsoring a fruit tree orchard at every public school. Nutiva is sponsoring a conference in September of this year, “Soil not Oil.”

Motivations for moving to Richmond included access to the Port of Oakland, availability of a diverse work force, including easy access for employees from Marin and Sonoma counties and the City of Richmond commitment to sustainability, greenhouse gas reduction and improving the environment. Finding a building in Richmond with the right amount of space, loading docks and an attractive lease price was key. Roulac noted that choosing Richmond was partially due to avoiding the traffic in the south Bay.

Nutiva is looking forward to Richmond ferry service, which can attract employees from San Francisco, and a shuttle that could serve the ferry, Point Richmond and Chevron.

Nutiva anticipates growth to $1 billion in sales by 2020 and wants to stay in Richmond.


Exclusively Doors – Prosper Attias presenting

It turns out that Exclusively Doors is not exclusive at all. The company has expanded to include all exterior building envelope components, including doors, windows and curtain walls, as well as interior finishes and fixtures to satisfy a customer demand for single point sourcing.

Exclusively Doors came to Richmond 10 years ago from Marin. The first five years were good but then the recession hit. But the company kept growing and is now booming, with 12 employees in the office and 150 in the field. The current facility is 20,000 square feet, but expansion is planned to 100,000 square feet. They are looking for a larger facility. 

They will need to hire additional employees, which are typically trained in specialties. Their employees are typically salaried with excellent benefits.

The available labor force is a factor in expansion, and workforce readiness and training will be important. The market is red hot, and potential employees are coming from as far away as Texas. Transportation is also a concern, with inadequate public transportation serving employees.

The City of Richmond was very helpful in facilitating a SBA (Small Business Administration) loan for expansion.

Ironically, Exclusively Doors does not have an operating website.


What I Learned

1.    Businesses moved to Richmond to take advantage of available space at relatively low rental rates strategically located for transportation, distribution and markets.

2.    All three businesses are expanding but want to remain in Richmond. Workforce readiness and training are important, as is available space.

3.    Mobility is critical. Public transportation serving both employees’ homes and the worksites needs to be improved and expanded. Transportation constraints such as long trains blocking grade crossings are significant impediments.

4.    The City of Richmond’s progress on many fronts in the last few years, particularly its leadership in sustainability, is important.

5.    There were no complaints about the City’s role in permitting, regulating or taxing. Conversely, the City was lauded for its assistance in securing business loans and being generally helpful.

Reposted from Mayor Butt's "E-Forum"

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