Palo Alto launches new 'economic outreach' effort"I like a challenge," Tommy Fehrenbach says of his new job of economic development coordinator for the City of Palo Alto.
Hiring new city economic-development coordinator hopefully signals a strengthened push for reversing city's slumping revenue base
He will have plenty of it in coming months as he attempts to take on the massive challenge of reversing the decline in city revenues from sales tax and other business-related sources — more than $6 million a year at last tally.
He will need to keep the big picture in mind but to deal with it on a business-by-business, issue-by-issue level.
Fehrenbach is best known for chairing the Chamber of Commerce board last year after several years in business in Palo Alto. He is hungry to learn more history of the community and of the business community.
He is personally aware of the struggle to survive faced daily by many locally owned stores, and of the vacant storefronts on University Avenue and elsewhere. Stores or restaurants that haven't made it include former neighbors of Sports Gallery, the business with which Fehrenbach was involved for more than 5 years, rising from an employee to vice president/manager of the University Avenue store and a small regional chain (in Los Gatos, Carmel and Walnut Creek). He later worked for several years in the local mortgage and banking fields, for Stern Mortgage and Borel Bank, qualifying him further to speak the language of business people.
Talking business, Fehrenbach quickly points out, applies to large firms with world headquarters in Palo Alto as well as to small shops and restaurants struggling to survive.
Any lack in long-term business experience should be offset by his outgoing personality and enthusiasm for life and Palo Alto. His open style will go far in invigorating the city's relationship with its businesses, which has been allowed to stagnate for much too long.
Palo Alto's economic health affects everyone in the community, residents, businesses and schools included. Fahrenbach correctly notes that if residents value having local enterprises in their community they need actually to shop there instead of at big-box chains. That's more of a reality than a part of his job description, but it's an important element in small-business survival and the city's overall economic health.
Beyond Fehrenbach and his formidable assignment, it is heartening to see city leaders once again recognizing the urgency of understanding the interests of businesses generally, and to see them select a high-energy ambassador to the business world.