Crafting a United Vision

Atascadero Economic Development Strategy

The Client

Atascadero is located near California's picturesque central coast, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The City was unable to reach consensus on a vision for future growth and development. Plans for a Wal-Mart to locate within city boundaries created a political divide between those who saw the store as an opportunity to meet household shopping needs and provide revenues for city services and those who wanted to support the further growth and viability of the historic downtown. The City wanted an economic development strategy that would build consensus about development priorities through extensive public involvement.

The Approach

ADE worked with the City to design an extensive public involvement program that included a community leadership assessment, focus groups, a household survey, a community forum and a series of televised meetings with the city council. Each meeting provided an opportunity to raise the public's awareness of economic sustainability systems and the connection between economic vitality and quality of life. A website designed specifically for the planning process kept the broader community aware of the overall process and timeline, interim reports and presentations and upcoming meetings. ADE interfaced with the local press often to ensure accurate information was printed.

The Process

ADE's comprehensive approach to the preparation of Atascadero's economic development strategy involved a quantitatively rigorous assessment of the City and San Luis Obispo County's economic conditions and trends. This included an economic base and industry cluster analysis, analysis of retail leakage and lodging trends, and a fiscal analysis of the costs of public services by land use category. ADE completed an opportunity site assessment to identify potential commercial and industrial sites for future development. To facilitate quick implementation of the economic strategy, ADE prioritized economic development program activities and assigned resource and staffing requirements to the first year's activities. Also, ADE teamed with the Placemaking Group to prepare an economic development marketing strategy that focused heavily on use of the City's economic development website to promote its brand and assets to prospective employers and visitors as well.

The Outcomes

ADE's comprehensive and inclusive approach to economic development planning resulted in a complete turn-around in public opinion in favor of economic sustainability programming and moving forward on redevelopment and economic development projects. Thanks to thorough research and effective community engagement, ADE was able to ameliorate friction among city leaders by showing that the City could have both a thriving downtown and greater retail opportunities. Today, city leaders share a united vision that supports sensible economic development that both serves the retail needs of residents and provides the revenue necessary to fund city services.