Local businesses want ferry, electric charging stations, skilled labor and less graffiti and dumping

Water Emergency Transportation Authority
The proposed site of a ferry terminal that would connect commuters to San Francisco's ferry terminal.

by Mayor Tom Butt: (first published in the mayor’s e-forum)

The third Business Roundtable took place at the Craneway Conference Center Thursday, July 31 with about 50 attendees – a sold out house. It was generously hosted by The Craneway and Assemble Restaurant. The entire mayor’s staff did an outstanding job planning and facilitating it.

After a greeting from City Manager Bill Lindsay and Craneway Representative and Assemble co-owner Richard Mazzera, Chad Mason and Kevin Connelly from the Water Emergency Transportation Authority made the first presentation, showing the location  (pictured above) and schedule for ferry service to Richmond. The good news is that the service is funded and implementation is underway. The bad news is that it won’t begin until 2018. The main holdup is that two 35-knot jet propulsion boats have to be built from scratch. The service will begin with three morning commute trips to San Francisco from Richmond. It is expected that the return trips will also generate substantial ridership. Initially the service will be just  between Richmond and San Francisco but could expand in the future.

The second presentation was by Max Scheder-Bieschin, CFO of Ekso Bionics (developer of powered exoskeleton bionic devices).. The company, which has 90 employees at its Harbour Way South location,  came to Richmond from San Francisco looking for expansion space. When they first came, he described Richmond as an “oasis,” but noted that it is developing into an “ecosystem.” Many of their employees lived in Berkeley and appreciated the short commute to Richmond.

Co-founder Nathan Harding provided a list of recommendations to make Richmond even more attractive to businesses:

  • Get the ferry operating. There are lots of employees who live in San Francisco.
  • Provide more electric car charging stations available to the public.
  • 25% of his employees ride bikes, so continue to improve the Bay Trail.
  • Keep working on BART feeder connections, including shuttles and buses.
  • Connect the education community to Richmond innovators. Not a single school class from Richmond has visited Esko, but they are eager to provide programs such a robotics.
  • Concentrate on stability in public policies and eschew volatility.
  • The negative perception of Richmond is a big issue. Before moving his business, he produced a video of Richmond for employees to help alleviate their concerns. He suggested Richmond have a full-time resource person to proactively  promote Richmond.

Harding praised Richmond’s City staff for being helpful and responsive in the permitting process.

Arnon Oren, owner of Oren’s Kitchen (“Catering & Specialty Foods: A Small Business With a Passion for Local, Organic and Sustainable Food”) has 10 employees and has been in business for 20 years, half of that with Oren’s Kitchen. He remarked about how a “food cluster” was developing in Richmond.

He looked at many locations and found Richmond attractive. Like Harding, he found interaction with City staff for licenses and permits so good he termed it “amazing.” He said that he was even getting emails at night from City staff indicating their interest in expediting his permits.

Orem also had his list of recommendations, which included:

  • Continue developing tourism destinations, including hotels.
  • Create more walking destinations.
  • Continue to enhance the amazing shoreline.
  • Emphasize helping small, artisanal businesses.
  • Do something about blatant trash dumping and graffiti.

He noted that it was difficult to find qualified employees in Richmond, although he has been working exclusively with RichmondWorks. He complimented them on their assiatnace but said finding good employees is a challenge.

The attendees then broke into table-sized groups for discussion and then reported out issues and recommendations.