City of Watsonville (CA) – Comprehensive Plan Economic Development Element

ChallengeTIP Strategies, Inc. was engaged by the City of Watsonville as part of a team led by Fregonese Calthorpe Associates (now Fregonese Associates) to update the economic element of the city’s General Plan. The purpose of the economic element was to provide the city with a framework for economic growth and the supporting information needed to implement the recommendations. The city’s diminishing supply of vacant, developable land – less than 2 percent of the total land area fits this description – was identified as a serious constraint to business expansion in Watsonville. Concerns about the quality of the available workforce, ranging from educational attainment to English language competency, limited the expansion potential and hindered the ability to advance existing workers to higher levels of responsibility. The high cost of housing, particularly when balanced against local wage rates, coupled with the city’s poor fiscal health, intensified the community’s problems.

ApproachTo understand the opportunities available to Watsonville, the team conducted an economic assessment of the area. This assessment focused on attributes that define the community’s strengths and weaknesses in the context of the Pajaro Valley, as well as the larger regional economy. The quantitative analysis was supplemented by interviews with major employers, education officials, local retailers, and members of the development community. Scenario modeling was used to help understand the impact of potential development trends in the city. This approach is especially instructive in Watsonville, where the relationship between employment, housing and land use are intertwined.

Three employment scenarios were designed to represent alternatives futures for the community:
1. A base case scenario in which the community retains its current strengths in agriculture and manufacturing.
2. A scenario in which Watsonville’s growth mirrored that of a bedroom community.
3. A third scenario in which employment gains in areas related to education, R&D, and technology reshape the city as a thriving employment center.

The results of the assessment and the scenario modeling formed the foundation for the economic element. Major recommendations included focusing on infill and redevelopment opportunities, particularly in the central business district and along Freedom Boulevard, conducting an internal and external marketing campaign, and developing the Manabe-Burgstrom (now Manabe-Ow) industrial property as a mixed use, signature project.

OutcomeThe City of Watsonville accepted the recommendations of TIP in setting priorities for economic development. Since completion of the economic element, the city has completed the annexation of the Manabe-Burgstrom property and prepared a specific area plan. In 2010 the City voted 6-0 to approve the development of the business park. The development is expected to generate more than 2000 jobs and is viewed as a crucial element of the city’s economic future.

TIP Contact Jon Roberts

Photo credit Phorenon

Photo credit Phorenon