Strengths and Weaknesses in Attracting Businesses to San Leandro
Summary of Roundtable Findings & Survey
The San Leandro business community plays a critical role in continuing to move the local economy forward. San Leandro's businesses are responsible for over 60% of the city’s total revenues. Economic development collaboration between city staff and the Chamber of Commerce, to support and uplift our local businesses and invite newcomers, is paramount. For several years the Chamber of Commerce has entered into a Scope of Services agreement with the City of San Leandro. Included in this year’s agreement was an initiative to identify strengths and weaknesses in attracting businesses to San Leandro through a series of roundtable discussions/interviews, and surveys.
Section I summarizes the roundtable discussions between SLCC CEO and business owners from July to August 2022. Section II summarizes the survey completed by SLCC Members.
Section I: Roundtable Discussion Findings
Description of Roundtable Discussions:
Roundtable discussions were held with businesses located throughout San Leandro. Mostly those who are members of the Chamber of Commerce and some non-members. Multiple businesses participated in small, two and three persons, roundtable discussions. They represented an array of industries and number of employees. Types of businesses included were hospitality, retail, property management, business services, manufacturing, and construction. The number of employees represented by the businesses ranged from five employees to several hundred employees.
To facilitate an open and frank dialogue, the meetings were purposely small with only two or three guests at once and no formal transcripts of the meetings were taken. SLCC CEO prepared general notes on the topics and concerns discussed (to craft the summary findings included in this document) and disclosed to attendees that comments would not be attributed specifically to any individual. In addition, the roundtables were closed to City of San Leandro staff and elected officials. A list of questions was prepared and utilized to prompt the discussion and keep it moving forward.
Purpose of Roundtable Discussions:
The SLCC believes it is important to hear directly from business owners to ascertain information that is likely to affect attraction and retention of business and investment in San Leandro to further its branding and marketing efforts. Although the SLCC interacts with the business community in many ways, the purpose of the roundtable discussions was to have direct and focused dialogue on the reasons why businesses choose San Leandro, their issues, concerns, and suggestions of improvements. It was also intended to hear and respond to varying views on issues. The insights provided from the roundtables will inform the SLCC organization and the City of San Leandro on components of what is working for business and what each organization needs to do more of or better on their behalf.
Findings from the Roundtable Discussions:
A list of questions was utilized to begin to the conversation and drive it forward. Depending on the attendees, some topics were discussed more than others. The following is not comprehensive to all the questions asked but rather a description of the most common issues, concerns, and comments.
General Comments on Defining Characteristics of San Leandro:
To begin the conversation each attendee was asked what came to mind when they individually thought of San Leandro and how they might describe it.
- The number one most common positive attribute about San Leandro is its physical location in the greater bay area. There are entrances to San Leandro from several major freeways at different points of the city, an airport and shipping port within a 5-mile radius, and thirty to forty minutes to other areas of the bay.
- The next most common positive attributes are the weather and diversity. San Leandro was recognized to be a well populated multi-cultural city with characteristics of a small tight knit community. Among that, those who live in San Leandro can enjoy the beautiful hills and views, as well as Lake Chabot and Marina Park.
- In contrast to those outlying nature spots, the most common negative attributes are the core of San Leandro is dirty, too much trash, blight, and crime. Specifically, crime of theft, break-ins, and property damage.
Reasons to Have a Business in San Leandro:
- The general sentiment of why San Leandro is a desirable place to bring a business or open a business is due to the location. It is viewed as a place easy for employees to commute, to move a business’s goods and services and access to suppliers and materials.
- Business owners note commercial property is affordable and it is relatively inexpensive to do business (fees and licenses) in comparison to other cities.
- It was commented San Leandro does attract national chains, indicating it is a good place to invest as San Leandro gentrifies, investment will be more advantageous.
Satisfaction Level of Doing Business in San Leandro:
There is a high level of satisfaction of doing business in San Leandro with as much or even lower level of satisfaction of doing business in San Leandro. Business owners collectively recognize the positive level of satisfaction in that the location works perfectly, cost of fees & licenses is manageable, class A companies are investing, and the City of San Leandro is supportive of startup companies. In lengthy answers and comments, there is a common denominator of frustration and discontent felt among businesses.
- Business owners’ most common frustration is a troublesome permitting process. It was commented permitting has taken, at times, up to nine months for completion due to a process that does not front load issues but instead returns to projects with new requirements several times over. The sentiment is a lack of understanding of the cost incurred for a current or new business during this process, to the detriment of a business losing thousands of dollars or ending its plans for opening. Facility rent or mortgage, construction fees, payroll, inventory, among other business costs, are due during the permitting process. It was also stated by multiple business owners the impression is the process is more punitive rather than incentivizing city staff and business owners to work towards solutions.
- Another area of discouragement is the south end of town not having received investment or attention. Upon entering San Leandro from that side of the city, the landmarked “triangle” area remains an eyesore and owners of blighted properties in that general vicinity have not been required to remedy their property.
- Lastly, poor performing retail is discouraging. San Leandro’s retail industry is split up with competing locations divided by freeways, it is unclear as to where the “shopping” district is located. Among that is also the worry of theft and property damage.
Retention & Expansion Needs:
- For businesses to stay and expand in San Leandro an overhaul of the permitting process is top of mind. The permitting process must be efficient and effective not only for city staff but for business owners.
- Business incentives such as a policy for a percentage of local businesses be included on large private projects.
- It is imperative to business owners that there is real understanding of the cost of crime on their businesses. A business with broken out store front windows in an act of vandalism cost $15,000 to replace. A business with several catalytic convertors stolen has lost over $100,000 in expense and revenue with their trucks out of order.
- Employers express the need for employees to live in San Leandro. With the cost of housing, employees tend to live outside of San Leandro and commute thirty plus minutes to work. One business owner noted an employee with an annual salary of $75,000 and one with an annual salary of $130,000 cannot afford to rent or buy a home in San Leandro.
- Another employer with over thirty employees stated only nine live in San Leandro. Business owners stated there is not a draw to San Leandro for professionals with more disposable income as there are no well-defined shopping, dining, or entertainment areas.
Business Incentives: Business owners pointed to different incentives for their industries.
- One common incentive for retention and expansion is a permitting process that involves a project expeditor. Someone who knows the permitting process and works towards solutions for onerous demands. Keeps the communication line open with business owners regarding timelines and deadlines.
- Another incentive is to develop a local business inclusion policy for private development to ensure local businesses are involved in building up their city.
- Incentivizing owners of blighted properties to clean them up with an offer to cover half of the expenses. Incentivize upgrading properties by use of the façade improvement program but incorporate a scalable reimbursement amount for different size companies. Recognizing the improvement to be an investment not just for the business but the overall aesthetic of the city. It was suggested the program be expanded to include infrastructure improvements.
- Cover one year of BART vouchers for businesses interested in locating to San Leandro to encourage their employees to commute to work.
- Another incentive idea is a fees deferral program.
- Comments expressed a desire for these programs to be developed, improved, and well communicated to the business community.
Section II: Survey Results
Description of Survey:
The survey was created by the Government Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. Approximately 40 Chamber Members participated, representing an array of industries. The number of employees represented by the businesses ranged from five employees to several hundred employees. The length of time in business ranged from 5 years to over 25 years.
Purpose of Survey:
The SLCC believes it is important to gather data from the business community on their critical areas of concern of doing business in San Leandro and their level of satisfaction regarding San Leandro as business friendly.
The insights provided from the survey helped inform the SLPAC on components to inquire with candidates running for office and to inform the City of San Leandro on the business community’s experience of doing business in San Leandro.
Findings from the Survey:
A complete summary of the survey is included alongside this report. The following is not comprehensive to all the questions and comments but rather a description of the top and common answers.
Top Three Critical Areas of Concerns: Crime and safety, workforce, and permitting process. (Inflation was noted as extremely critical but viewed by the SLCC as a national concern.)
General Comments Regarding Critical Concerns: The most common comments are crime has increased in San Leandro, permitting process is not prompt, reasonable nor cost effective and more housing is needed.
Satisfied with City Council’s Performance: All topics on the survey resulted as not satisfied. Reducing crime and reducing homeless had a much higher level of unsatisfaction.
Pro-Business San Leandro: 48.3% consider it to be pro-business, 34.5% consider it not to be pro-business and 17.2% were not sure.
Needs for Business Thrive: Several comments were to address the crime in San Leandro, improve the building and permitting departments, and build more housing.