CALIFORNIA CITY – After attending a recent trade convention, California City Chamber of Commerce President Alexia Svejda is cautiously optimistic about attracting new business to the city.
"In a nutshell, I felt like I was flying blind going into this," said Svejda. "At the end of day one, I was very happy with the results. What I'd learned and contacts that I made and the appointments I made."
The International Council of Shopping Centers' RECon convention was held May 19 through 22 in Las Vegas. Founded in 1957, the organization is the global trade association of the shopping center industry, according to their website. It features more than 70,000 members in over 100 countries, including shopping center owners, developers, managers, marketing specialists, investors, retailers and brokers, as well as academics and public officials. RECon is billed as the world’s largest retail real estate event.
"We need to be at this event and the follow on in Southern California every single year, we can't just once in a while go here," said Svejda. "This is where you make the connections. This is where you find out who's bringing hotels who's bringing retail developers who are the ones with the capital, because they're all there and all of them are there to talk to each other.
"I think I talked to every single hotel chain that does business in California, and every single one of them is interested. That's a good position to be in. Right now, I've got four developers that are interested in talking to hotels. I had no idea we were going to be in this position when I came back."
Speaking at the monthly Chamber Business Brew meeting, Svejda cautioned that any development would not be happening overnight.
"But it's not going to happen at all if we don't attend the conventions every single year - because you have to start the relationship somewhere," she said.
Svejda attended the convention armed with traffic numbers for California City and those for State Routes 58 and 14, but discovered she also needed to do some additional homework for next time.
"Dunkin Donuts, for example," she said. "They have a handout if you don't want to stop and talk to them and you just want to know 'OK do we even fit?' They tell you we want central city. If its urban we want, you know,18,000 people within a five minute radius. Suburban, 9,000 people within a five minute radius. Trade area, employee population. You know, they want a visual from a roadway - this much square footage. I mean, they line it out for you exactly. This is what works for them to have a business in your town or city."
The convention was a serious reality check, according to Svejda.
"I get it now," she said. "What can we and can't we be targeting? Did I stop and talk to Starbucks, yes. Are we a fit for Starbucks? Not yet. That's the reality. But I've got a name and relationship is started."
To truly be competitive, the city is going to have be willing to spend money, Svejda said.
"Our city is going to have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on feasibility studies or there will be companies that will absolutely will not talk to us," she said. "This is something we as a city have to learn: There are times we have got to spend money to make money. And that became very clear to me. People are having serious conversations, and I came loaded with data, but I didn't have a feasibility study."
Svejda said she is hoping to convince the City Council of the importance of the feasibility study and paying for continued attendance at these conventions. Attendance this year was paid from the Chamber's budget.
"So to send somebody to ICSC, low budget, is going to cost us $1,000 a year," she said. "And that's just Vegas. If you're going to then back it up, and we have to, with LA, that's going to be at least another $800. So we're talking $2,000 a year minimum for somebody to go to both of those shows has to be spent every single year."
Many communities around California City are already preparing feasibility studies and attending the events, Svejda said. McFarland, Taft, Tehachapi and Ridgecrest are among the cities who sent representatives to the convention.
"This is our future, she said. "If we don't do this and everybody around is doing this, then we cannot complain when we don't have the businesses. If we do this and it doesn't happen, then we can complain."
Svejda said she is currently in the process of getting quotes from companies that help cities prepare feasibility studies and will make a presentation to the city council on the subject at a later date.
"If they say yes to the study, great," she said. "If they vote it down, I'll do the best I can with the data that I have."
The next Business Brew meeting will be held at 8 a.m. on Thursday, June 27 at the Chamber office, 8001 California City Blvd. in the Sprague building.