Fehrenbach to head Palo Alto economic development

Former chair of Chamber of Commerce board named to city's economic development position

Tommy Fehrenbach, relationship manager at Borel Private Bank & Trust Co. and former chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, has been named the new economic development manager for the City of Palo Alto.

His assignment will be to try to reverse the economic fortunes of Palo Alto in the form of loss of millions of dollars in sales tax and other revenues in recent years.

Fehrenbach, known for his energy and outgoing approach to people, will begin his new post Aug. 16 as part of the city manager's office, city officials announced.

"As we confront the fundamental changes in our business environment, Tom's combination of Palo Alto knowledge, talent and experience will help us to retain our strong economic position as a center of commerce and innovation," Assistant City Manager Pamela Antil said in a memo Tuesday evening informing the City Council of Fehrenbach's selection.

Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, to whom Fehrenbach will report, co-signed the memo.

Fehrenbach replaces Susan Barnes, who retired in June but who has continued working part time as a consultant pending naming of a new outreach manager. The salary for the position is $123,053 per year, plus benefits, according to the city's Human Resources Department.

"After an extensive search Tom was selected as the best fit for Palo Alto," Antil said.

"He brings experience as a small business manager here in Downtown Palo Alto, which provides excellent insight to the needs of our small business community.

"Additionally, Tom provided leadership with the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, which gives him a broader business perspective," Antil said.

Fehrenbach has years of business experience, but also has a light side, participating in a video to promote Palo Alto as a site for a Google grant to provide high-speed fiber and broadband to Palo Alto last spring. He also has performed karaoke at local events.

In recent civic issues, Fehrenbach opposed a business license tax that went down to defeat last year, but he earlier supported the concept of "civic engagement for the common good" as a top city priority.

Engaging the community with an eye toward the "common good" is completely different from simply engaging the community, he said.

"The common good ensures there's room for everyone's voice."

Fehrenbach today commented on his impending career move:

"Although it's difficult to leave Borel, I'm excited to go to work for the city in this new capacity.

"There are certainly challenges to face -- especially in light of these uncertain economic times. However, I look forward to engaging with the community around thoughtful economic development so that we may continue to make Palo Alto a great place to live and work."

He earlier was a loan officer for Stern Mortgage Company of Palo Alto, was vice president and store manager of Sports Gallery Authenticated of Palo Alto.

In 2001 he received a bachelor of science degree in interdisciplinary studies in social science, with a concentration on human resources and society, from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. He is a Palo Alto resident.

The magnitude of Fehrenbach's challenge was outlined in the introduction to the recently adopted $139.4 million city budget for fiscal year 2010-2011.

"General Fund revenues are still under duress and are expected, at best, to climb slowly out of their trough," the introduction said. It cited evidence that the fund "has hit a 'revenue bottom.'"

But it warned that "continued high unemployment, low consumer confidence, restrained business spending, and credit restrictions could reverse of constrain revenue performance."

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Like this comment
Posted by Bob Harrington
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 4, 2010 at 7:40 am

Tommy Fehrenbach is an outstanding addition to the City Manager's office as director of economic development. Great guy, highly regarded in Palo Alto, and instinctively pro-active in all the right ways, Tommy will certainly make a positive difference for our community.

I applaud City Manager Jim Keene for gathering top quality leadership to move our city forward, Tommy Fehrenbach the most recent example.

Excellent choice.

Like this comment
Posted by About Fehrenbach
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 4, 2010 at 11:17 am

Anyone who headed the Chamber of Commerce has to be a favorite of its big developers.
I'll withhold judgment.

Like this comment
Posted by Old Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 4, 2010 at 11:19 am

What does this position do? Does he try to recruit new companies to do business in Palo Alto? Does he help new and existing businesses in Palo Alto do business more effectively? If so, how?

Like this comment
Posted by Stepheny McGraw
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2010 at 11:50 am

Those of us who have seen Tommy Fehrenbach's paid and volunteer work applaud his selection as the new economic development manager. He is positive, supportive and solution-oriented and will no doubt bring a new and welcome energy and effectiveness to this position.

Like this comment
Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 4, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Congratulations, Tommy! Well EARNED. I know you will do a great job for our community.

Like this comment
Posted by Paula Sandas, President/CEO Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce
a resident of University South
on Aug 4, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Congratulations to the City of Palo Alto for hiring Tommy Fehrenbach as Economic Development Manager ~ he's a proven leader, knows our community and business needs intimately and takes a common sense approach. As the former Chair of the Board of the Chamber he demonstrated these skills with a maturity beyond his years.
The Chamber looks forward to a continuing relationship with Tommy and the City in securing and sustaining our local economic vitality!

Like this comment
Posted by Dumb Struck
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 4, 2010 at 1:03 pm

You have got to be kidding!
When does doing karaoke qualify one to manage economic development in a city that is already teetering on the brink due to mismanagement?

Tommy is a nice kid, but way out of his league on this one. This position is not the same as managing the Sports Gallery!!

Like this comment
Posted by jean paul coupal
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm

The first thing that Tom should do, ASAP, is set up a meeting with Landlords.There are more vacant spaces in Downtown Palo Alto than ever.

He must act as an Ambassador to promote investors and new stores to move in or soon we will have a Ghost Town.

I was the founding promoter 6 years ago to start the ""Downtown Street Team"" it is a very successfull project in Venezuela, at the time no one believed in it, it took me 9 months to finally have all the comunity accept it, look now how great it is working, with many other cities in America using the principles that we set up in Palo Alto..

He should only dedicate himself at the beginning to bring new business's to Downtown Palo Alto. So all the community may prosper

Welcome Aboard !!!!!!!!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Promote South PA
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 4, 2010 at 5:17 pm

I hope he can reach out to South Palo Alto. The properties on San Antonio adjacent to H.101 are super valuable and need to be promoted for redevelopment. They are located between the new Campus for Jewish Life in PA and Charleston Shopping Center in Mountain View, and just where retail loves to be, easily seen from H.101.

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2010 at 7:42 pm

This guy sounds like a cheerleader. The question is: What does he have to offer to potential investors? It is long past time that we understand that Downtown is dysfunctional. It is a destination saloon at night and very uncomfortable to shop in during the day, due to too many beggars. Rents are absurd. It is not business friendly.

Where is there a vision for Downtown that really works? Anyone?

Like this comment
Posted by Susan Rosenberg
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 4, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Tommy is a great choice for this position, he's energetic, a creative thinker, and follows through on his projects. We're lucky to have him.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 5, 2010 at 12:08 am

The Bay Area Council (the big business money boys) sent a letter to Mayor Burt calling Palo Alto obstructionist and dangerous regarding high-speed rail.

Let's see how well Tommy can dance around this issue with the business people he is trying to court.

Like this comment
Posted by Cecelia Horn
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Aug 5, 2010 at 12:23 am

Still trying to establish Moldaw and the JCC which is almost the southmost part of the city if you forget about Commercial Steet. etc. The tax base is perceived as a giant trough around which the dwellers at City Hall would like to feed. How about looking to reducing costs so that business wants to come. Now that I live even closer to Mountain View than when I lived at Janice Way (same zip code, though, evermore it seems more attractive to go to Mt. View to the Milk Pail, Walmart, OSH, Trader Joe's and a price-competitive gas station right across the street, and not to neglect Costco. Remember when the City of Mt. View ground up the buildings to accommodate new business along Charleston Road. It is absolutely disgraceful that it has taken at least (I'm guessing) to finally see the old Lucky on Alma bulldozed for a new market hardly bigger than the old one and some carefully juggled houseing. The Palo Alto Process at work!!

Let's monitor the level of the trough (tax dollars generated)

Like this comment
Posted by Measure then praise
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 5, 2010 at 4:27 am

How will you measure (metrics) that he indeed accomplished what he was hired for?

Like this comment
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2010 at 1:01 pm

No nationwide search?

Like this comment
Posted by Downtown Business Owner
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2010 at 1:08 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by Jonathan
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2010 at 3:17 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2010 at 9:41 am

Anyone that knows Tommy knows that he is an approachable, intelligent young man who has the credentials to lead a very successful economic development strategy for the City.

There are very few young adults in our community who are “involved” and have made Palo Alto their home. Tommy is one of them. He volunteers for numerous nonprofits organizations. Just to name a few, he is/was an officer of the Kiwanis Club of Palo Alto, a board member of The Downtown Streets Team, and a board member of the Recreation Foundation. He managed Sports Gallery a downtown business which is a favorite for sports enthusiasts. He then worked as a broker for Stern Mortgage another Palo Alto based business with considerable history and community service as a core value. Then he transitioned those experiences and values into banking, as a relationship manager with Borel Bank located on Lytton Ave. So, it seems that he has business skills in retail, sales, marketing, real estate finance, and banking. His nonprofit experience, at minimum, yields consensus building, organizational development and fundraising skills. And if that isn’t enough, he was the Chair of Board of Directors for the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce at age 29.

Now it is true that his job will not be easy given the “economic” stakeholders of Palo Alto. And it is also true that Tommy will need to measure economic indicators and use them as markers to chart the course and evaluate success. However economic development is much more than pure economics. Our individual space, our world, is more intertwined than ever before. In order to succeed in our current state and position Palo Alto for the future, all sectors of the economy will need to work more closely together. Therefore, it is going to take a unique individual to bring these sectors together. Tommy is the right person to lead this community effort. His hard work in Palo Alto’s nonprofit and business sectors has made our community a better place to live and work. For example, he recently worked with Palo Alto Unified School District and the City to create a link between the business community and Project SafetyNet.

For his age, his accomplishments are vast and noteworthy. He will be a great Economic Development Manager and much more. Congratulations Tommy! The City is fortunate to have you on their team.

Like this comment
Posted by bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Jonathan, Susan Barnes was totally ineffective in retaining businesses or attracting new ones. All you have to do is count the number of stores for rent in the downtown area. If she had been capable, Mr. Keene would have kept her.

Mr. Fehrenbach has a very difficult job. I suggest he get acquainted with the property owners and developers who set the rules and work from there.

Like this comment
Posted by Jonathan
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2010 at 9:53 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 10:46 am

The vacancies in the downtown, bill, are a result of the poor economy, or haven't you been out of Palo Alto recently? There are several new staff in the City manager's growing office--maybe one of them can provide some effective leadership. Susan Barnes is a highly regarded, effective economic development professional. Her loss is a blow to the city. Hopefully, her successor will do more than cheerlead.

Like this comment
Posted by Bye Bye Business
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Everyone knows that Palo Alto is a very difficult community for business. Most companies do not want to jump through the hoops and put up with the roadblocks and crap that they have to face.
They have succeeded in scaring away all big box stores and because of the fact that certain local stores cannot have any real competition, supermarkets are regulated to being small and cramped.
Why bother shopping in Palo Alto when I can find everything I need in Menlo Park, Mountain View and Los Altos.
The constant whining about traffic and the obstructionism from NIMBYists who are still stuck in the 20th century, with a bucolic view of Palo Alto as a small community has driven away plenty of business. Facebook will be next to leave considering how College Terrace has latched onto them in their latest series of whinings for stuff from the city.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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