By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park’s new economic development director on Tuesday outlined steps to rejuvenate the city’s business climate.
Linda Babonis said her priorities include working to keep businesses in Rohnert Park and helping them to expand, as well as getting new businesses to set up in the city of 41,000.
Babonis said the city has to make up for past efforts that sputtered and left business owners disenchanted.
“We want to start building up credibility with them,” she said after her presentation. “It’s been a long time.”
Councilman Jake Mackenzie, the longest serving councilmember, said it is the council’s responsibility to stay on top of Babonis and her team. “For this to be successful, we’re going to have to have an ongoing dialogue with economic development and it’s got to have ongoing feedback from the businesses,” he said.
The economic development program Babonis described was drawn mostly in broad strokes. But among specific initiatives were attracting fine dining restaurants to the city and working with real estate agents and property owners to market vacant properties to prospective business tenants.
It envisions training programs for businesses that would, among other things, connect them with lending sources and other business support services.
The program — details of which would be developed in the next six months, she said — also calls for pushing public works projects that would create jobs.
Babonis said those might include renovations at community facilities and parks, a sewer trunk line on the city’s west side and extending Dowdell Avenue behind Costco.
Rohnert Park leaders have beaten the drum for economic development for the better part of two years as they dug out from a budget deficit that hit $4.4 million in 2010. Application processes have been streamlined and the city has started programs to help businesses financially.
On Tuesday councilmembers pointed to the opening this month of a new G&C Auto Body store on Commerce Boulevard as a sign of progress.
G&C Auto Body owner Gene Crozat, who has seven stores from Windsor to San Rafael, said the city’s efforts made a difference.
“It made it easy to do business there,” he said. “They’re saying ‘how can we accommodate you.’”