A Passion for Progress

Rancho Cordova, CA  |  By Jacqueline Fox
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“We are growing at a relatively rapid pace,” says Curt Haven, director of economic development and neighborhood services. Photo by Jacqueline Fox

Rancho Cordova, CA (MPG) - By a count of years since its incorporation in 2003, the City of Rancho Cordova is barely a teenager.  But considering the caliber of economic and cultural growth taking place, it would not be too far off the mark to call this the city’s “Golden Age.” 

Rancho has a hefty portfolio of available land for retail and residential build out alike.  It currently serves as home to several of the state’s largest employers, including Blue Shield, Delta Dental, Franklin Templeton, Health Net and VSP.  Health insurance firm, Centene Corp. reportedly has signed what is considered to be the largest office lease in the region in 2016.

The city has an employment pool of roughly 70,000.  It’s easy access to Highway 50, the presence of five light rail stations and the fact that it is situated above the flood plain and considered seismically sound, are a huge draws for major developers.

At the same time, Rancho’s changing demographics are driving cultural shifts, resulting in the expansion of its food and entertainment sector.  More than half of its residents are under 35.  There is no shortage of support for the expanding foodie industry that is both retaining commuters after work hours and drawing out locals.  

“We are growing at a relatively rapid pace,” says Curt Haven, director of economic development and neighborhood services.  Haven’s job is to spearhead the mapping out of the city’s economic strategies, steer redevelopment processes and serve as the city’s formal liaison to neighborhood associations.  Haven carries the distinction of being the city’s first employee and is on track to see Rancho Cordova bust wide open.

“Highway 50 is my home,” says Haven, a formerly self-employed operator of an auto parts business who got involved with the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce prior to cityhood.  He became the chamber’s CEO and ultimately went on to chair Rancho’s incorporation committee and helped spearhead the push for the ballot measure for independence.

“Because I was the CEO of the chamber, I just had a love and desire to see Rancho become a greater city than it already was,” said Haven.  “I knew it could come back if it had the distinction of being its own city with its own governing capacity.”

Under his guidance, Rancho’s Development Services Team, comprised of representatives from various city departments, as well as partnering agencies, manage a lot of “moving parts”. Those involve the attraction of and service to new and existing businesses, whether that’s a Blue Shield bringing in some 600 jobs, a craft brewery or a mom and pop eatery.

The approach, says Haven, is small town.  He and or a member of his team will sit down with just about every prospective business owner interested in setting up shop in Rancho to help them navigate the process.  The city’s OpenCounter service and online tools help also provide a quick way for any prospective business owner to generate a list of the permitting and fee requirements expected in advance.

“There’s a whole bunch of moving pieces involved in our approach to serving the economic growth of our city, but we keep it that way so it’s nimble,” said Haven.  “Because we are a new city, we were able to set up processes for businesses that weren’t siloed or heavily bureaucratic.  We answer questions quickly.  Even if someone just has an idea, they can come in and sit around a table with us and discuss their plans.  Whether they are a large company or a small one, they all want certainty.”

Recently, the city and chamber co-created a marketing program as a way to both keep commuters in the city after working hours and bring out the locals at night.  The “Stay An Hour After Work” campaign touts Rancho’s 16 “happy hour” hot spots, nearly two dozen fitness “centers,” and its much-revered and expanding Barrel District, offering a full range of eateries and breweries delivering craft beers and specialty cocktails across a swath of Rancho’s industrial section of town.

The Barrel District is home to Gold River Distillery, the first distillery to come in line since Prohibition.  J.J. Pfister Distilling Company, Burning Barrel Brewing Company, as well as Strad Mead, which will serve wine distilled from honey, are also on their way into the district.  It will be the first meadery in the region.

Combined, these businesses are feeding the reinvention of Rancho.  It is not just a big place for corporations to spread out in or large developers to blueprint a new housing community.  While those are both critical components of Rancho’s growth and attraction, everyone knows when paychecks are spent in the same city where they are earned, economic prosperity and a destination status are solidified.

“About two years ago we had a discussion with the city council about Rancho’s amenities and we talked about how to keep employees who don’t live here in the city after 5 p.m.,” said Haven.  “We also talked about where our residents are going after work.  So we collaborated with the chamber on that program as a way to build up night life and we see it working very well.”

There are also existing businesses who are actually facing issues with aging, if you can believe that for a city on the cusp of 15.  To address some of those issues, Haven’s department launched the Commercial Façade Improvement Program in 2016, which makes mini-grants of up to $5,000 available to businesses to cover the costs for things such as new signage, exterior cleaning and painting, new awnings, lighting and landscaping.

Matching grants for up to $70,000 are also available through the program, funded by the city’s Community Enhancement Fund, supported through the half-cent sales tax measure approved by voters in 2014. The city also offers businesses support through its Revolving Loan and Business Incentive programs.

“Our job is also to retain businesses, so we want to do whatever we can to support small-scale infrastructure projects or beautification projects,” Haven said.  “It’s important that we do what we can to help ensure their longevity and success.”

New projects coming in line also include a 199-unit, upscale apartment project at Capital Village and the Sunridge Plaza project at Sunrise Boulevard and Douglas Road, which will feature, among others, 9Round Kickboxing, Bark Avenue, Chase Bank, Jimboy’s Tacos and Soho Sushi.

While he can’t share details, Haven confirmed San Gabriel-based Shun Fat is attempting to open an Asian supermarket inside the now vacant 114,431-square foot building on Sunrise Avenue, formerly home to Sam’s Club.

Several upscale, single-family housing communities also are on the radar, but perhaps the most widely discussed one is the planned Rio Del Oro project, which calls for 12,000 new homes, six elementary schools, one middle school and the first high school to open in the city in five decades.  It, too, will include several miles of commercial real estate opportunities.

Rancho took a disastrous hit economically with the closure of the aerospace sector in the1990s.  Its reputation as home to scrappy immigrant communities, low-income housing, shuttered buildings and growing blight was widespread.  But years of advocacy for cityhood lead by Haven and fellow members of the incorporation team, followed by a laser-focused plan for reinvigoration upon its hard-won vote for cityhood, have put Rancho Cordova firmly back on the map.

“I knew that I always wanted to work