When environmental monitoring firm Precision Measurement Engineering, Inc. (PME) outgrew its office in 2011, finding a larger space was easy, thanks to efforts by the City of Vista.
The 30-year-old family-owned business, which develops high-performing environmental monitoring instruments, moved its headquarters to Vista from a neighboring North County city after Vista officials welcomed the company with open arms.
“Vista offered some attractive properties and we eventually chose the Vista Technology Center as they had a two-suite opening at an attractive rate. We have since expanded to the third suite next door,” PME CEO Kristin Elliot said, adding that PME currently has 12 employees and is actively looking to fill two more positions.
Since then, Elliot said the city has continued to support PME’s growth, mainly through its Vista CARES Program, a business retention and attraction program that includes company visits conducted throughout the year by economic development staff with council members, and a bi-annual volunteer participation event called the Vista CARES Business Walk.
“We were visited by Vista Mayor Judy Ritter about two years ago to discuss PME, our history, and future growth. She and her team were very interested in helping us however they could and I believe that their primary objective was to ensure our success in the City of Vista,” Elliot said. “They also wanted to understand our future goals to discuss potential opportunities. We are working with them now to deploy valuable water monitoring technology in the city’s Duck Pond. The PME technology will monitor dissolved oxygen and temperature variations in the pond as these are essential for ecological balance. We are also interested in testing the anti-fouling equipment during this deployment.”
PME’s Kristin Elliot (L) with Vista Mayor Judy Ritter (R)
Elliot said the city has also been instrumental in connecting PME to various other government agencies and municipalities, which has been key to the company’s growth.
“The City of Vista personnel are always willing to help us however they can. If we need introductions to water municipalities, they are able to make those,” she said. “They were quick to respond when we asked if there were any bodies of water in the city in which we could deploy a water quality sensor for testing.”
For Elliot and her team at PME, the Vista CARES program has been vital not only to the company’s success but also for the surrounding business community.
“With any endeavor, and with any success, it's essential to build a network of individuals who can help one another achieve goals and ensure long-lasting relationships,” she said. “I love how the City of Vista takes time to understand business needs, listen to entrepreneurs, and discuss potential synergies and opportunities. If businesses are satisfied with the city that they operate in, they will look to grow and expand within that city therefore benefiting the local economy. The city has helped PME understand technology needs locally, therefore benefiting customers regionally, domestically and internationally.”
“We are excited to work with the City of Vista more in the future as we are launching Aquasend, a business that provides fish farmers and aqua farmers with real-time water quality monitoring and management systems,” she added.
There are countless stories like this one from other Vista business leaders like Elliot who have benefited greatly from the Vista CARES Program. In fact, the City of Vista will be receiving an award for the program during the CALED 39th Annual Conference during the Celebrating Success Luncheon on March 28, 2019.
Vista CARES - which stands for Communicate, Attract, Retain, Expand, and Support - strives to keep businesses from relocating to other cities, helps businesses survive economic difficulties, assists businesses with expansion that create jobs, and helps firms increase their competitiveness. The program first began in 2002 with retention business visits and then expanded into its second phase in 2011 adding bi-annual business walks in partnership with the Vista Chamber of Commerce. From identifying the need for more hotels near the business park to helping breweries export overseas, the program has proven valuable in identifying business needs and standing up new initiatives to support growth.
As part of the business walks downtown and in the business park and monthly company visits, the city is able to hear how companies are doing and see what their needs are, whether it’s reaching out to the State Regional Quality Control Board, or the Community Development Department for an easier path for a design project.
“Engaging the business community shows we are committed to investing in their success,” said Vista Mayor Judy Ritter. “The program is also useful in helping the city understand business trends, and provides insight into the needs of specific businesses often revealing new issues that the city works to fix either for a single business or an entire group of businesses.”
Early on in the program, through business visits, the city’s economic development staff identified that businesses in the business park wanted to have hotels nearby for visiting clients and executives. City staff worked to identify sites and hotel companies that could fit the market need and as a result of identifying this need, the city successfully attracted a Marriott and Hyatt to the business park area which not only serve the needs of businesses, but also contributes to the economic base of the City, which has significantly increased its Transient occupancy tax (ToT).
“Each hotel we bring in allows us to put more firefighters and police on the street, as well as recreation programs via our increased ToT,” said Kevin Ham, Vista’s Economic Development Director.
Another successful example of the program: A representative from the Federal Trade Commission joined a downtown Vista CARES Business Walk and was able to hear the need for breweries to expand into new markets. As a result, a series of international trade workshops were conducted, and today at least two Vista breweries - Aztec Brewery and Iron Fist - distribute their product in overseas markets.
“The most significant ROI of the program is retaining businesses that pay taxes and provide quality jobs,” said Kevin Ham, Vista’s Economic Development Director.
Besides benefiting local businesses, the Vista CARES program has also proven to be a boon to the community at large. “When businesses are connected to the city and people who want to see them succeed, they feel more invested in the community,” said Rachel Beld, the new CEO of Vista Chamber of Commerce and former management analyst for the City of Vista.
“One of the things that is great about the Vista CARES program is when you go out and see businesses in their environment and how they work, it brings a level of understanding and awareness of what they are doing,” Beld added. “It brings awareness to the city staff members or stakeholders involved and having that level of understanding brings extra considerations. It’s like the old saying, ‘If you walk a mile in someone’s shoes.’ This is a little glimpse of businesses in Vista and what’s impacting them. It’s also an opportunity to have a less formal conversation. They can share with you what's really going on and what their needs are. Sometimes creative solutions come from these meetings.”
Vista’s hands-on approach to economic development has also laid the groundwork for similar business retention programs in neighboring cities like Escondido, which adopted the business walk.
Escondido’s Economic Development Manager Michelle Geller said the business walks provide a unique opportunity to engage community volunteers and city staff with business retention.
“It also provides businesses with a mechanism through which to provide feedback to the city, and does so more efficiently than I can on my own,” Gellar said. “I think our record is 50 businesses visited in one day through the business walk. It would take me years to do that many visits. I really appreciated Vista being so open in sharing the ins and outs of doing their business walk program with us. They recognize that retention is not only important for the City of Vista but for the entire region, and that’s what helps to build a strong economy.”
Since Escondido has launched its business walks, Geller said the city has seen recent growth in most of its target industries, including tech, agriculture, specialty food and beverage manufacturing, and healthcare.
“Business retention is a top priority for any economic development program. Most of the growth within a city or region comes from expansion of existing companies, and expansion will not occur without robust retention activities,” she said. “I’d like to think that Escondido’s growth is helped along by our retention activities, such as assistance with development permits, site selection and addressing a variety of business challenges at the city level. But Escondido, or any other city, does not operate in a vacuum. Retention efforts in our region feed off one another and ensure that the entire 78 Corridor is a strong center of employment and innovation. My colleagues in the Innovate78 partnership all value retention efforts like Vista CARES, and we all put a lot of focus on staying in touch with local businesses and responding to their changing needs.”
Economic Development contact for the City of Vista:
Economic Development Director