Council Looks to Draw High-Tech Businesses

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In an attempt to attract more small and high-tech businesses to the area, the Berkeley City Council is expected to consider two measures tonight that would develop new business-friendly programs and policies.

Since the two proposed measures have similar goals, they may be indicative of corresponding desires on the part of many city officials, according to Councilmember Polly Armstrong.

"They're a good mix," Armstrong said. "It sounds like a lot of us are coming to the same conclusion at the same time."

The first proposal, sponsored by Mayor Shirley Dean, recommends the creation of a small business support program. Dean said many of the proposal's ideas were generated at a business symposium she held on Feb. 1.

The proposed support program would include youth workshops on developing business skills, creating a city purchasing program favoring Berkeley businesses and improving communication between businesses and the city. It would also include the formation of partnerships with the U.S. Conference of Mayors Partner America Program and the East Bay Center for International Trade.

One aspect of Dean's proposal involves using revolving loan money to help small businesses purchase their own space, which would give businesses more control over their future. However, Dean said it can be difficult to get landlords to sell space to small businesses.

"This is a very tricky kind of thing to do because the current owner has to agree," she said.

The proposal also suggests working with the Haas School of Business to create programs that would help small businesses write business plans and reach out to high school students.

"Having a closer relationship to Haas School of Business and programs like that is important," Dean said.

Council members Linda Maio and Polly Armstrong proposed a similar measure focused on attracting high-tech business and increasing sophisticated job training.

According to Armstrong, the city is trying to change its reputation of being closed to new businesses.

"Berkeley is a natural training ground for high-tech businesses because of the professors and students in the area," Armstrong said. "We're always looking for good paying jobs that will allow people to live and work in Berkeley and avoid commuting."

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said while Berkeley is a good incubator for high-tech businesses, they are often forced to move out as they grow.

"Attracting high-tech businesses to Berkeley is not the problem," Worthington said. "The problem is as they are expanding, they have to move out of Berkeley because there is no space for them to expand within the city."

According to Worthington, many high-tech companies used to be in Berkeley but relocated as they expanded. One example is Dicon, which wanted to stay in the city but had to move to Richmond because it couldn't find adequate space in Berkeley.

Bill Lambert, the city's manager of economic development, said he was concerned about the lack of available office space in Berkeley for new and expanding businesses.

"Right now we have approximately 2 percent vacancy in our office space," Lambert said. "If this program will have some significance, we will have to increase our office space."

However, according to Armstrong, there is open space in the city, mostly in West Berkeley.

"There is a lot of space open in West Berkeley. It's a matter of how you use the space and the compromises you make," Armstrong said.


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