Meet Walnut Creek’s New Economic Development ManagerJun 25, 2020 12:14PM ● By Pam Kessler
When Collette Hanna accepted her position with the City of Walnut Creek, she did not imagine moving to the Bay Area from Southern California during a pandemic, or meeting colleagues and community members on virtual meetings while working from home. Hanna brings a breadth of experience to the city’s economic development team drawing from her background in the tech, bioscience, transportation, and retail sectors for cities and downtown improvement districts including Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Now 100-plus days into the shelter in place order, Hanna shares her vision for the city.
What was it like relocating and starting a new job during a public health crisis? Moving during a pandemic is definitely challenging! The hours are long but I’m really proud of the work we’re doing in helping businesses re-open. I’m excited about getting to know the business community and the ways we can help the businesses thrive and grow jobs.
How did you end up in your field? I discovered economic development working for a city in Southern California. I was hired because of my marketing background in the tech industry and my ability to market the city to attract businesses and create jobs. It’s something I fell in love with as a combination of marketing, urban planning, and public policy – all while helping cities thrive and helping individuals secure good jobs.
How will you help the business community survive during these unprecedented times? Businesses are looking at how they operate – which can be an opportunity for growth or change. We’ve launched a Rebound program to help businesses re-open. The first phase was downtown, but as we start working with the rest of the community, I’m looking forward to hearing their challenges and what their needs are from the city.
Are you concerned that Walnut Creek may lose 30% of its retailers and restaurants before this is over? We’re seeing great success with Rebound and our hope is that it will stave off business closures. The longer we see the situation with coronavirus, obviously the greater the impact, as well as addressing any challenges the businesses had pre-COVID19.
Pre-COVID19 vacancy rates were already extremely high in the historical downtown, how do you fill the empty space? I’ve had conversations with local brokers to better understand real estate trends and dynamics and will work with them to help market the city and attract the right mix of retail, restaurant, and office tenants.
Is rezoning to medical or financial uses a consideration for empty retail/restaurant spaces downtown? I’m working closely with our Planning Department to understand policy and overall vision, and best uses for empty spaces. It will also entail working closely with the brokerage community to understand demand and vacancies in other sectors where there might be opportunities.
How can the city attract new businesses? It’s all about knowing the assets of the city and being able to market them – promoting to the right audiences. I’ve always enjoyed this, pulling from my marketing background. It was great working in communities bringing new retail, or large advanced manufacturing and logistics operations bringing great jobs to the community.
What industries will you target to reinvigorate WC? We’ve got a strong healthcare industry. How can I grow, extend, and support that? Are there opportunities for bioscience to work in conjunction with healthcare? What are the opportunities for headquarter locations, supporting FIRE industries? I’m also excited about exploring our maker industries, and the small business manufacturing sector for local manufacturing.
What are the silver linings from the COVID19 era? For me, I’ve had to jump in and get to know the community quickly. So while it’s a tough time for everyone, it’s been good to jump into this challenge along with everyone else – getting to know our internal team and processes, and the business community.