VISTA — Over the years, the city of Vista has aimed to create a thriving business environment. At the center of this focus is the economic development division led by Kevin Ham.
Ham is quick to point out that the city’s economic development branch recruits companies and helps keep companies within a community. Currently, there are more than 900 companies in the Vista Business Park that cover 14 million square feet. It’s estimated that nearly 20,000 people work there.
Ham also calls the city’s economic development branch the ombudsman. Be it problems, questions, issues or challenges, the department jumps right in. It’s a very robust program, Ham said.
“We then also help to create jobs,” Ham said. “Either those jobs in the community or help find the correct jobs for a company. I call it get ‘em, keep ‘em and help ‘em jobs.”
Ham went on to say that what makes Vista’s business environment so unique is the economic development branch’s listening skills. The department will do what it can to help a business.
“But if we can’t do something, we are very clear we can’t,” he said. “Because for a business person, at the end of the day, they want to know if they can do it or not. They do not want to be strung along.”
One example Ham shared was the building process. Sometimes businesses need to tear down walls for expansion or converting a former storage space to manufacturing.
“Our planning staff is very clear on what needs to be done and how we can do something to help you,” he said. “If there is an issue that comes up, we will take the time to explain another way that it could be done.”
Ham said the economic development department’s mission is one of the reasons that the breweries started in Vista.
“We have 18 breweries and three more in the works,” he said. “When they started up in other cities, there was no model for what a brewery was before, especially a tasting room. We took the time to listen to what the breweries needed.”
Ham also credits the annual Vista C.A.R.E.s. Business Walk with garnering information. This year will mark the eighth event, which the city does in collaboration with the Vista Chamber of Commerce. It’s a way to connect with local businesses.
Fifty volunteers gather together and survey around 250 companies in the business park. The goal is to retain businesses by helping them succeed.
One of the questions businesses are asked is how the city can help.
Ham said the business walk has been productive. In fact, the idea of bringing hotels into Vista came out of that retention program.
“Businesses told us that they needed hotels nearby,” said Ham, adding that the expansion of Sycamore also came out of that discussion. “Our businesses needed to get people in and out of the business park as well as products. We needed to have that expansion take place.”
The data brought back from the annual business walk is incorporated into city decisions, Ham said. The end goal is to support companies in the business walk as well as the happenings in downtown, which can reflect those businesses.
For Ham, it’s all about creating a strong business environment.