San Andreas, CA – Calaveras County’s first-ever economic development director is signaling interesting new business opportunities shortly coming to the Mother Lode.
Along with building and strengthening ties between her office, other county agencies and organizations, since her hiring back in January Kathy Gallino has been a busy force supporting some major endeavors behind the scenes.
Looking back, she admits that helping to shepherd in the county’s first transient occupancy tax (TOT) or “tourist tax” increase in over four decades took a good deal of her initial focus time. Voters last month approved a subsequent ballot measure to raise the rate from six to 12 percent as reported here. It goes into effect Friday.
Gallino confides that she also spent a significant amount of time working to help facilitate the recent sale by Castle & Cooke (as reported here) of its entire local holdings portfolio, including Copperopolis Town Square and the Saddle Creek golf resort community along with several other properties for which development plans were created but not implemented.
Major Development Plans, Filling Up A Fresh Slate
“[The real estate deal] is going to be a huge stimulus for our county both for our housing as well as services,” Gallino enthuses, confiding that the new owners, Copper Valley (CV) LLC, have plans that encompass building more housing, tourism accommodations, recreation, and retail, which will additionally create more jobs and foster other business opportunities. Another economic booster, she notes is the Valley Springs Health and Wellness Center, which, as we reported here, the Mark Twain Healthcare District anticipates opening by next summer.
“Our economy is picking up, not…as fast as other regions around us. But again we are a county of 45,000 people and most of the cities around us are bigger than that to begin with,” Gallino comments. Too, she maintains that focused efforts are already bringing promising results. “I came into this position with nothing but a blank slate. There had never been an economic development department in our county’s history,” she says deftly, also noting that even with the county’s rural location and limited resources, it has a strong base network.
“We are working together in partnerships in collaboration with business associations and organizations, our faith-based groups – and also through huge partnerships with the Calaveras Chamber of Commerce, the Visitors Bureau, and our Winegrape Alliance,” she continues. “From my assessment in the last ten months here, people want growth…options for shopping…to keep their dollars local and not go to Jackson or Sonora…once you get a few things going it will start to roll — and I am working through our different agencies, facilitating task teams, streamlining permitting process — and working on providing good customer service.”
Housing, General Plan, Career Pathways, Broadband
Among Gallino’s biggest targets are some of the largest stumbling blocks impeding local economic development progress. At the top of her list is more housing, including affordable housing for workforce and the homeless; also supporting the efforts to Planning Director Peter Mauer in getting the county’s long-awaited General Plan update ready for final adoption by the supervisors. Running a close second is working with the school districts on career pathways development.
“A lot of the things I am working also [involve] broadband development,” she adds. Besides eliminating telecommunications dead zones for public safety benefit, Gallino stresses that high-speed connectivity throughout the county is key to helping draw new and expanded business opportunities, including telecommuters. She also says pending new state regulations are requiring that the county and other jurisdictions streamline their permitting processes to expedite viable small cell tower projects.
Gallino is also clearly excited about some new endeavors nearly ready to go. Come January, her office and the local business community will be participating in an agritourism workshop with UC Davis Extension. Geared to provide detailed assistance local farms and ranches interested in expanding their businesses with an attraction component for visitors, it involves business plan creation, monitoring and promotional elements.
Calaveras Now An Official ‘RMDZ’
She has also been able to obtain two new economic development zone designations for Calaveras County that she hopes will attract attention and thoughtful participation. The first is a Recycling Market Development Zone (RMDZ) designation, which applies to all unincorporated parts of the county. Gallino recounts that she learned back in March that a new grant cycle had opened for new regions to apply but had a very short lead time to apply through the CalRecycle Program under CAL EPA. What the zone designation provides, she emphasizes, are very low-interest loans through the state at about four percent interest up to $3 million for businesses that want to start up, expand or change operations to take anything nonhazardous out of the waste stream and manufacture it into another product.
“It provides a business who takes a waste product out of the landfill and remanufactures it for another purpose RMDZ loan monies that can be used for property acquisition, working capital, equipment purchases and other things,” she continues. Materials like rubber, plastic, wood, glass — anything nonhazardous but destined for the landfill — are fair game for potential recycling into new projects. Among the nearly limitless possibilities, Gallino points to range from turning dead and dying trees into pallets, animal bedding or art, to refashioning rubber tires into playground or gym mats.
To that, she adds, “As we are getting on in the world of solid waste reduction, we are really going to have to address keeping things out of the landfill….composting…we have a lot of things that can be compostable and we don’t even have a composting facility.”
‘Opportunity Zone’ Knocks In District 2
Gallino was also able to get part of Calaveras County, primarily District 2, included in the California Opportunity Zone program, a portal that allows investment into areas that meet the state’s census requirements to be considered as a “disadvantaged” area. This opens the way for investment groups, LLCs and private investors interested in putting funds into infrastructure, business growth and development, and job creation within the designated zone area. In return for their investment they are exempt from capital gains taxes.
As Opportunity Zones are part of a brand new program, Gallino says that the IRS is still coming out with rules and regulations, which should soon become available. Describing what it could mean, she muses, “Maybe we have a Google or a tech company that wants to come and…maybe put in a say, satellite campus.”
Expanding on that thought, she continues, “There’s a lot of tech companies that are like ‘we’re kind of sick of the Bay Area’. Maybe you want to come to the Gold Country…expand your mind, make your life better and…invest there without any capital gains implications. It’s a big deal.”
For more details about new and evolving economic development opportunities in Calaveras, she suggests regularly checking out her website by clicking here.