Thursday, April 26, 2012
Consultants offer Rx for Stockton’s problems/The Record
Marketing, worker education are part of focus, they say
STOCKTON - The Stockton-Modesto business community struggles with a negative image, dense layers of government regulation and restrictions, and problems of getting the financing, expert advice and well-trained workers it needs, according to a new report.
But that is only the beginning, said Monica Hart, a business consultant who helped develop the report.
"Where do we go from here?" was the question she posed Wednesday to a luncheon meeting of area business and economic leaders, owners and managers invited to review the report and respond to its conclusions.
Stu Gilman, president of a professional employment service, External Resources Inc. in Modesto, explained why he helped sponsor a series of focus groups late last year and earlier this year on economic recovery, and now conduct additional meetings on the resulting report.
"My goal here is to stir the pot a little bit," he said. In the end, "We can begin to prioritize and figure out how each of us can participate together to begin a turnaround."
The focus groups, involving 60 to 70 people in the Stockton and Modesto areas, identified five major concerns. The report also provides 17 actions or new resources needed to help spark an economic recovery.
Those include a marketing campaign to change the area's image; creating a single resource directory or source for all area business services or solutions; programs to improve worker skills and education; and a streamlined compliance and regulatory process.
Many of these problems are not new, and some of the suggested solutions may already exist.
Gilman said the effort may be plowing old ground, but he hopes that he might attract more business owners to get involved.
"Let's see who's out there who wants to make a difference," he said.
Already, though, the focus groups and meetings have had results, he said, "We've been able to engage people who might not otherwise be engaged."
Hart said the difficulty is that government business development programs often create agencies and hire people to provide advice and training to small-business entrepreneurs, but then neglect to spend money on marketing.
"The disconnect is that nobody knows where all this stuff is," she said.
For example, the focus groups suggested creating a marketing plan to attract large businesses to locate in Stockton.
That would seem to be a role already filled, for San Joaquin County, by the San Joaquin Partnership. The public-private agency works to draw new businesses to the county as well as retain and encourage the expansion of existing companies.
Mike Ammann, the partnership's president, outlined some ways the agency is addressing the report's concerns.
If the question is one of identity, he said "It's 'Grow it, make it, ship it,' " a phrase reflecting the region's strong agricultural, manufacturing and transportation resources.
The message he'd like to deliver is that, with a seaport, airport, two major railroad interchanges and interstate freeway connections, the region is a center of international commerce and part of a mega-metropolitan area of more than 14 million people, counting Sacramento, the Bay Area and the northern San Joaquin Valley.
Ammann agreed, however, that the region needs a stronger, more unified vision of itself.
"We need a crisis management group," he said.
He recalled being interviewed by major media outlets, including Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio, on the subject of Stockton's potential bankruptcy, without having a framework shared with other community leaders to provide some perspective on that story.
"As a group, we didn't have a story. We just let that happen to us," he said.
Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 or email@example.com.