For decades, rapid growth in high-tech industries has fueled the rising cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. The City of Vallejo stands out as an affordable, business-friendly alternative to other cities in the area. With a new General Plan that embraces innovative industries and developments, Vallejo is open for investment. Business in Focus spoke with two of the city’s leaders to learn more.
Vallejo, California, is located on the north rim of the San Francisco Bay. The waterfront city is centrally located within an hour drive between Sacramento, San Francisco and the Napa Wine Valley. With a population of 122,000, Vallejo is the largest city in Solano County. The city stands out for its numerous amenities combined with attractive housing prices – a rare combination in the Bay Area. For the past six months, Vallejo has been named the hottest real estate market in the U.S. by Realtor.com, due its supply of reasonably-priced real estate in a high-demand area. The area also has a large supply of historic properties available, both residential and commercial, with sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay.
The city is conveniently located near the major employment centers of San Francisco, Oakland/Berkeley, and San Jose/Silicon Valley. It is situated at the intersection of multiple major transportation routes including Highway 37, Highway 29, Interstate 80, and Interstate 780. The San Francisco Bay Ferry serves two Vallejo terminals with non-stop access to downtown San Francisco, and Solano County’s transit system connects to Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), making it easy to commute into San Francisco.
Surrounded by the Napa River, the Carquinez Strait, and San Pablo Bay, Vallejo offers numerous water-oriented attractions. The city features two marinas, a yacht club, sailing excursions on the river, and many other recreational offerings. “As we plan for the future, we’re considering how we can position our waterfront in a way that will continue to highlight the public’s opportunities to access it,” says Andrea Ouse, Community and Economic Development Director for the City of Vallejo.
Despite its relatively small size, Vallejo boasts a unique culture and countless amenities. “We are an incredibly ethnically diverse community,” Ouse says. “We also have a burgeoning artist community that has developed and generates a lot of cultural activity and events.” The city’s cultural attractions include the Vallejo Symphony, which has performed in the historic Empress Theatre since 1931, as well as museums, and year-round festivals. “Because we have such a diversity of cultures here, it’s a very interesting place to live,” says City Manager Dan Keen. Other attractions in the area include a minor league baseball team, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom theme park, three regional trail systems, and multiple breweries and wineries.
“The identity of the City of Vallejo really lies in our history,” Ouse explains. “We’re an old city, as cities in California go,” adds Keen. Vallejo was in fact established as the state capitol in 1851. The city includes Mare Island, which was the site of the U.S. Navy’s first Pacific coast base, and a large part of which is overseen by Master Developer, Lennar Mare Island. The naval shipyard operated from 1852 until its decommission in 1996, growing substantially over the years while maintaining many of its historic landmarks and facilities. Mare Island is now a State Historical Landmark and is included in the National Register of Historic Districts, while embracing opportunities for adaptive reuse and playing host to a unique range of businesses with needs for unique facilities. “We’re finding that a lot of businesses are attracted to the ‘cool factor’ of the historic and industrial buildings that are available in the Downtown and Waterfront areas,” says Ouse.
Indeed, businesses flourish in Vallejo. The city’s largest employers include Sutter Solano Medical Center and the Kaiser Foundation Hospital, the California State University Maritime Academy, Touro University and the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom theme park. Vallejo is also home to film studios, craft breweries and distilleries, a number of advanced manufacturing companies such as Kiewit Corporation and Earthquake Protection Systems, and a large network of thriving small businesses. “Vallejo really is a city of small businesses, and one of the focuses of our business retention efforts is finding them easier pathways to expansion and success,” Ouse says.
The city’s leadership has a strategic vision for growth, which includes increased flexibility for new development in the Downtown area. Plans for the Downtown and Waterfront areas focus on transforming under-utilized areas and surface parking lots into higher-density developments, with flexible commercial uses to create a vibrant work, live, play environment. The city is also recruiting investors that are interested in new construction and in-fill development. “We’ve seen an increasing level of interest from businesses, developers and investment group in terms of interest in downtown and waterfront development,” says Ouse.
The City of Vallejo’s economic development strategy focuses on business attraction and expansion. The city’s newly launched web portal, ChooseVallejo.com, offers a wealth of information to guide businesses interested in establishing or expanding their operations in Vallejo. The site includes a user-friendly dashboard, along with analysis tools, live property database, and site selection information to assist companies that are looking for locations in Vallejo. Ouse’s team is also developing a digital media platform and press packets to share with site selectors and brokers.
The city’s recent investments in infrastructure include building out a high-speed fiber network. “The city has invested in implementing its fiber master plan by building a robust internal high-speed fiber network that offers unlimited capacity,” Ouse says. In the high-tech landscape of the Bay Area, high-speed internet access is essential to business success. “In terms of attracting start-ups and businesses that depend on the speed of technology, this provides a huge advantage, and one that we’re certainly going to highlight in our business attraction efforts.”
Andrea Ouse and her team are working to attract investment and development by building awareness of all the unique benefits and amenities the city offers. “Because of the city’s history as a naval base and shipyard, we have a unique amount of infrastructure capacity to be able to accommodate industrial and other development,” says Ouse. On Mare Island alone, there are more than 100 businesses currently in operation with more than 450 acres of space available for development, as well as many historic buildings.
The City of Vallejo is finalizing a visionary plan that looks to the future while embracing the city’s heritage. “We’re in the final stages of a three-and-a-half year process to update city’s 20-year general plan, a vision document that sets forth policies for everything from land use to community health to arts and culture. We’re very proud of this document. Specifically, it provides those interested in developing and investing in Vallejo with guidelines for what we’d like to see where, in terms of land use. It offers a lot of opportunity and flexibility for development within our community.”
The City of Vallejo is open to investment, offering assistance and incentives to support business development in the area. With its convenient location near major employment centers, cost-conscious real estate, and attractive amenities, Vallejo is truly the city of opportunity in the Bay Area. “What makes Vallejo a great place to live and work is the talent, location, and the opportunities that we have here,” says Ouse.