Redding’s Stillwater Business Park is officially open and awaiting its first company to roll in and break ground.
And, following Friday’s ribbon cutting, the clock is also officially ticking on the park.
If months and months roll by and begin to merge into a year or so without any significant action, critics will (and should) increasingly begin to ratchet up the noise. After all, there’s a lot of shovels full of public money in play. Expenditures thus far are close to $21 million, according to the city’s own financial summary. Total costs have been estimated at nearly $70 million. The larger number includes factors like the interest on bonds sold to finance the park, total build-out for the electric infrastructure and an additional bridge that’s needed.
The city has moved all of its chips into the center of the table and there’s no going back on the bet. The cards will be laid down over the next few years.
Redding Mayor Patrick Jones (in gray suit) cuts the Stillwater Business Park ribbon Friday with realtor Rob Middleton, former EDC chair who also who helped locate the Stillwater property. Looking on are council member Missy McArthur (beside Jones), Redding City Manager Kurt Starman (second from right), and Economic Development Corporation Chair Brad Frost (far right).
At this point, Stillwater is one seriously expensive cow pasture. If the project turns out a dud, it’ll be an epic financial disaster that should be closely examined. Many believe it already is.
But a growing number of naysayers and critics would be hushed in a hurry if a couple of large manufacturing companies start to roll into Stillwater.
There’s a chance of that happening very soon, says Pat Keener, Redding’s economic development liaison for Stillwater. One large company is close to committing at the park and there should be an answer within the next 60 days, Keener says.
The company would bring from 300 to 600 jobs to its plant and have a capitol investment impact of several million dollars. A second company is also showing extreme interest in Stillwater.
The unfortunate trump card that’s been played at this time is the economy. That doesn’t blend well with California’s already lousy reputation as being unfriendly to new or expanding businesses.
“The most important thing is the business park is open and we no longer have to say it’s coming,” Keener said. “We’re very well positioned when economy turns, and it will turn, and (companies) know they have a shovel-ready site to build.”
View from the ribbon-cutting bus ride of shovel-ready sites. This site, No. 11, is the largest. Patrick Keener hinted that city staff have had conversations for more than four years with a highly sought-after large manufacturer. Though Keener wouldn’t name names, he said this manufacturer could bring a potential 400 good jobs to Redding.
Keener mentioned that Redding’s central location between Los Angeles and Seattle is a big plus for the companies that have been recruited for Stillwater. Other attractive features include the abundance of water, low utility prices (for California) and abundant labor pool.
An offer for free land is on the table from the city for an initial Stillwater business, but the issue of prevailing wage complicates that picture. Under prevailing wage, a company that receives free land would have to pay builders a higher wage than what they may ordinarily find on the open market.
Keener said the company would have to weigh its overall costs to see if the land offer would be an overall benefit. He added that it’s common for incentives to be worked out for perspective companies.
“There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat on that,” he added.
It’s not as if Stillwater proponents have not heard critics who have clamored that the business park is an idea that’s well past its time. Critics have also questioned whether Redding is really that attractive to companies when one gets brutally honest about the city’s pool of educated and well-trained potential workers, its access to capital, the presence of legitimate entrepreneurs and the overall quality of life.
One thing you can’t question is Redding’s gorgeous setting.
View of Lassen Peak from this shovel-ready Stillwater site. City staff said they could have held the ribbon cutting last year, but they waited until last week so the area would look its best, with green grass and wildflowers.
At Friday’s ribbon cutting, with the beautiful surrounding snow-capped mountains in plain sight, proponents spoke to the relief of the business park finally being open after a decade of setbacks and delays.
Mayor Emeritus Michael Polymeyer acknowledged that Stillwater took longer than expected to reach the first phase, but added, “Thank God and thank people that this is behind us … Thank goodness we began 10 years ago so we could stand here today.”
Polymeyer predicted that within 12 months of the first company buying a Stillwater plot, the business park will fill out. “The first one will stick its neck out, and the rest will follow,” Polymeyer said.
After the ceremony, Redding Mayor Patrick Jones admitted that although he was not always a Stillwater supporter, he saw the wisdom in going forward with the project.
“I was among the most critical of this project,” he said. “My main concern was whether this was the best use of public funds, because I thought it should be a private development project, where a private developer takes the lead, just like Oasis Road.”
But, Jones added, “Once you start something, it’s tough to turn around. We’re moving ahead. We’re too far into Phase One to stop now. To not go forward would be like you’re building a house and only have the framing up when you lose your job. You can’t just leave it in that state. You have to make it stable.”
A lot of that success will probably depend on the sophistication and energy behind recruitment of companies. Part of the appeal to the Stillwater concept is that it would include businesses that would pay above the median wage for Redding.
In a perfect world, green technology companies would flow into Stillwater. The cites of Red Bluff and Shasta Lake are studying (or preparing to study) the recruitment of green, renewable energy companies. Imagine if the north state could become a leader in that field. What a nice blend it would be to an area so rich in natural beauty.