When Mayor Bill Fisher took the city’s helm in an unexpected mid-term change of the mayorship last year, he did so with an urgent vow.
“We need someone championing El Segundo, to market our city before the recovery wave passes us by,” Fisher said last May, at the outset of a dramatic council meeting in which a majority of his colleagues voted him mayor. “Time is precious.”
It turns out Fisher had several somebodies in mind. One of his first acts as mayor was to reconvene city’s long-dormant Economic Development Advisory Council, comprised of nine members of El Segundo’s business community, in order to help strategize both how to keep local businesses and attract new firms.
EDAC was last active well over a decade ago. The advisory council is diverse and includes such business leaders as Continental Development’s highly respected president Richard Lundquist, Brian Polkinghorne, a vice president with real estate firm CBRE and long an active voice in local development matters, and Drew Boyles, a local businessman and a director with the regionally influential Entrepreneurs Organization.
One key difference in the reformulated EDAC, which meets monthly, is that each meeting is also fully attended by the City Council. It’s much more than symbolic — the idea is that city leaders can better understand the needs of the business community by sitting face-to-face with its leaders in a free-wheeling discussion every month.
El Segundo Chamber of Commerce CEO Sandy Jacobs, also a former councilwoman and a member of the original EDAC, said the dialogue between public and private sector leaders is rare and valuable.
“People coming from the public sector point of view don’t always see the importance of certain things the business community needs — yet sometimes the answers are so simple,” Jacobs said. “The problem is often just lack of experience, not thinking like the other guy. You know, it’s rare, speaking from a city council point of view….sitting with other members of the community and having a dialogue, a back-and-forth conversation, as opposed to ‘You present, and I rule’ kind of mentality.”
The meetings, held at El Segundo’s Fire Station #2, were sparsely attended when they began last summer. Now they are jam-packed, attracting not only many members of the business community, but even a regular contingent from the Manhattan Beach City Council and city management — who are now in the process of establishing an advisory council of its own.
“There is a buzz going on with what we are doing with EDAC, just by itself,” Fisher said.
The meetings have featured a wide array of keynote speakers, including Lew Horne, managing Director of CBRE and Chairmen of the Board for the Los Angeles Economic Development Council; former Pasadena city manager Cynthia Kurtz, who oversaw that city’s revitalization of its “Old Town”; and Sean Bender, vice president with tech company Riot Games, a company that had considered relocating to El Segundo.
It is in keeping with the learning ethos of the advisory council that they asked Bender to speak, months after his company chose not to relocate to El Segundo — the idea was to learn why, and adjust strategy accordingly. It turned out there was little El Segundo could have done differently — his employees lived closer to Riot Game’s eventual new home in Santa Monica — but Bender advised the council that El Segundo’s biggest problem was its low profile (see story page 14).
Local entrepreneur Mike Keller, who recently launched spice company California Rancher, said the meetings are both illuminating and inspiring.
“It’s great to be in a room with such an engaged group of leaders with deep experience levels from such a wide swath of businesses,” Keller said. “It’s a very strategic, collaborative and logical approach to attract new businesses to El Segundo by respecting the community’s history yet embracing the future. There are no egos or personal agendas at the meetings. Everyone is there to truly collaborate to make El Segundo more business friendly and develop strategy to attract the right businesses.”
Fisher said that economic development takes time — he regrets, in fact, that the advisory council hadn’t started its work sooner. But he said the council is indicative of the city’s new focus.
“There is a consensus that this is important, and everyone understands it, and it’s importance in the longterm,” Fisher said. “I think we are on the right track. We are moving forward.”