By Lisa Buddecke, Kelsar Communications
No state in the union has been immune from the impact of the national pandemic. COVID-19 has hit every U.S. economy hard, no matter the size. California, the largest economy in the country – or the world’s fifth-largest economy if it were its own nation – is still in the early stages of fully reopening. But California’s size and economic strength prior to March 2020 puts the state on a solid foundation for growth and economic development success.
California’s massive economy runs on business diversity, a large workforce, strong industrial manufacturing, distribution, logics, a west coast location, and of course great weather to name a few. These assets are proving to be the foundation that’s keeping many industries operating and residents working during this unprecedented economic downturn. And these assets put California in a strong position to recover and grow its economy once the state fully re-opens.
Pivoting economic development efforts and marketing strategies during the pandemic is a weekly undertaking for economic development teams, particularly for the Southern California Inland Empire cities of Ontario and Chino that border Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange Counties.
“Our focus now is supporting and retaining the 11,000+ business we have in the city, our residents and keeping Ontario open,” said Bradley Gates, City of Ontario business operations director. “Business retention has taken on new meaning these days. We’re working daily with businesses to accessing local, state and national resources and connect them with processes needed to secure available employee benefits. We are all optimistic and hopeful that the impact on employees will be temporary,” he said.
Logistics – The Bright Spot
Ontario’s and Chino’s economic development teams have spent decades building diverse business sectors to address a wide range of industries. That strategy is now proving to be advantageous during these economic challenging times. “We’re finding vital business sectors in areas such as distribution, transportation and food-related manufacturing are thriving right now,” Gates said. “These businesses are open and employees continue to receive paychecks,” he said.
Ontario International Airport, the center for Southern California transportation, is enjoying bustling cargo operations the past few months, shoring up the economies of both Ontario and Chino. The airport is the western hub for UPS and the Fed-X facility there is expanding its sorting facility. Transportation is big business in this region and growing.
Products are also traveling by way of the largest port complex in the U.S., nearby rail access and numerous interstate options. “Easy access to Los Angeles and Long Beach ports gives this region a huge advantage,” said Chris Kennedy, City of Chino economic development manager. “Few cities, particularly on the west coast, have nearby ports for quick and cost-effective product transport. Businesses here are able to take advantage of this attractive transport option,” he said.
The country finds itself even more dependent on moving goods from manufacturers and warehouses then transported around the U.S. As these demands are likely to increase at the local, state and national level, Ontario and Chino are poised to meet those needs.
A Standout Spot in Southern California
Compared to nearby Los Angeles and beach communities, Ontario and Chino offer some of the most affordable housing in Southern California.
Both cities have been actively building new homes, largely in the affordable multi-family range. “Chino built about 7,000 news homes in last 15 years with 7,500 more in the que,” Kennedy said. “We’re currently working to address a state housing shortage and to develop 1,380 affordable housing options in our community.”
Residents enjoy the quality of life Southern California offers but with at lower costs. “The Inland Empire has easy access to all the benefits the larger counties of Los Angeles and Orange offer, but at a lower cost,” Kennedy explained. “We have more affordable housing and pay less in rent and taxes than surrounding counties. But thanks to our ideal location, we can still experience everything Southern California has to offer including nearby beaches, mountains and desert communities. We get the best of both worlds here and save money too,” he said.
Ready for Business
Over 10 million square feet of industrial space in Ontario is currently under some phase of development. This space is ready for manufacturers, distributors and businesses looking for space in a prime Southern California location. “We are actively marketing this large available space and anticipate that industrial space will be viewed in a new light post-pandemic recovery,” Gates explained. “Businesses will be putting a greater focus on lower building costs, taxes and housing costs in a prime location with a large talent pool. Ontario checks all of those boxes.”
Looking to post-pandemic economic development efforts, both cities are prepared to market available space and ideal location to industry.
According to Chino’s Chris Kennedy, “We’re going to continue what we’ve done for the past three to four years which is focus on supporting and growing the industries we do have while redeveloping older facilities,” he said. “We understand that the true impact of the pandemic on business may not be clear for many months. Even if we see some business consolidation and vacancy rate increases from our current low four percent, we see this as an opportunity for Chino. We’ll refocus our business recruitment efforts to seek out new tenants to fill open space and the 1.25 million square feet already under construction. We’ll look to businesses that will provide the best value to our community going forward, that enhance current sectors, offer good wages and improve our city’s economy,” Kennedy explained.
Despite the altered world we now live in, economic development will continue to thrive, though strategy adjustments will be necessary. “We’re tracking to be more focused as a full-service community, working just as closely with businesses as residents and community as a whole,” Ontario’s Bradley Gates said. “By growing our diverse industry sectors, assuring business and residents alike are getting the services and support they need and shoring up our economy to mitigate impacts of future unexpected set-backs, we’ll be on solid footing to remain a thriving city.”
Lisa Buddecke has served as an economic development consultant for nearly 20 years. https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisa-buddecke-914b0214/